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In an unusual twist Monday, Lansing Town Planning Board Chairman Tom Ellis said he would recuse himself from any votes on the Cornerstone project, a 72 unit one, two, and three-bedroom apartment project that would offer subsidized housing to a portion of its residents.  Ellis said town officials have not adequately planned as preparation for developers to build on the 156 acres of town land across State Route 34B from the Town ball fields.

"I've thought about this back and forth and up and down...," he said at Monday's Planning Board meeting. "I would suggest a moratorium on any development on this land until the Town can get its eggs in the basket correctly.  We don't know who's paying for infrastructure, or where.  We don't know who is paying for roads from where to where.  What does the next developer do?  We don't know about any permanent roads.  It hasn't been planned.  That's unacceptable.  I don't think the Town's ready to develop this yet."

Ellis said the Town should build the infrastructure and then charge developers more for the land to make up the investment, or plan that infrastructure and require developers to build it accordingly.  he told the developers he doesn't blame them, but rather town officials for selling the land without a cohesive plan.  He noted that another project slated to be constructed near the Cornerstone development has proposed an entry road off of Conlon Road, which contradicts past plans for the property that would route traffic from 34B to a new road leading to any developments on the property.

There has been widespread opposition to the project on the grounds that similar projects around the county have been crime magnets.  Residents have also been concerned about traffic, though that is always a concern by neighbors faced with new development near their homes.  People worry about the impact on the Lansing schools, and especially its tax impact to existing property taxpayers.

There have certainly been conflicting opinions about the 'town center land'.  In the past a Town Center committee came up with concepts that would include housing, a possible new park, and a walkable, village-like retail and professional building area that all townspeople could take advantage of.  Another plan included that plus a technology and light industrial park at the back of the property, close to the juvenile delinquent incarceration center where they surmised people would not want homes.  Others think the whole parcel should be sold as farm land.  And some think it should just be sold so the Town can get back its investment in the land and put as much of it as possible back on the tax roles.

I have always favored the former idea.  This town can certainly afford to invest in the planning and infrastructure that would allow the Town to determine exactly what it wants on the land and where.  That the Town owns what amounts to a figurative blank canvas begs the notion that a big picture plan should be imposed on it.  Figure out what we want.  Make it happen.  The end result is that we get what we want in a town center AND the land goes on the tax roles.  And developers get to develop and presumably make a profit.  Win-win.  Paint a pretty picture on the canvas rather than  flinging the figurative paint at the easel and letting the paint land where it may.

Lansing has a history of stress between the Town and Planning Boards for different reasons over the years, so I suppose the current situation shouldn't be a surprise.  Most of the Planning Board members have expressed strong concerns about the Cornerstone proposal, but Ellis is the only one who has spoken out so bluntly against it.  Ellis said he would recuse himself because he can't separate his strong feelings about how the Town is going about selling the land from the Planning Board's lawful responsibility to review the project strictly according to how town land use law defines the what can happen on this land.

With purchase agreements already signed, it may be too late to change the current approach.  If it is simply impossible for Lansing to do that, maybe just selling the property is the thing to do.  At least it gets the land back on the tax roles. 

But with such a fundamental disagreement on how the town center land should ultimately be developed, it may be time to have that discussion again and decide whether the level of planning could be stepped up.  Certainly the two developments currently contemplated could be included in such a plan, as they don't seem to me to especially go against the concept the old Town Center Committee, with much public input, came up with.

Such an approach could actually solve some of the issues that are being raised about who pays for roads and infrastructure, and who benefits from it fairly or unfairly.  The amount of dissent does seem to point to a thoughtful discussion along the lines of that old committee.

Even when town administrations favored the more strongly planned approach, this town has never had the stomach to actually do it.  The town as a whole doesn't suffer from lack of vision, but time and time again it seems to lack the ability to agree on a vision and make it happen.  That last part is the part that matters.  Can Lansing make it happen?

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