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Lansing Village Cottages

Developers and Planning Board members spent another two hours Tuesday trying to convince each other that a 105-unit rental small cottage proposal arranged in nine pocket neighborhoods would or would not benefit the Village of Lansing.  Lansing Village Cottages, proposed by Beer Properties, LLC, would be targeted at seniors who want to downsize and stay in the Village.  But Planning Board Chair Lisa Schleelein and other board members continued to question why a Planned development Area (PDA), essentially a special zone within an established zone, should be granted when she characterized the existing Medium Density Residential (MDR) zone as flexible.

"The first thing I look for is why would you not just look at our basic code?," Schleelein said. "Why is this so different and special that you have to ask for a PDA.  In the history of our village we've had two PDAs in 40-some odd years.  This is zoned Medium Density Residential (MDR).  What is allowed there?  Why should this be of interest to us as a village?  Why should we think that this is so special that we would allow for a PDA?"

The Beers argued that the development is unique and a creative way to satisfy a long list of goals set forth in the Village's comprehensive plan.  They listed over a dozen goals their proposal satisfies, including encouraging developers to build smaller; more affordable housing units; limited curb cuts; walking and bicycle paths; a broad range of high quality, safe and attractive housing options; planning for an aging population; flexibility in residential density; and considering cluster development. 

"It is, I would say, imaginative and innovative," Steven Beer said. "Those aspects that are part of our proposal could not be plunked down in the present zoning in a medium density residential zone.  That's why I think the PDA is quite appropriate for the unique proposal that we're offering."

Beer added that the 41 acre property is currently assessed at about a half million dollars, which would rise to $22 million if the project is developed as proposed, which he noted is roughly 46 times the current assessed value.

"That's a distinct advantage to the Village and the other entities," he said. "The State, the County, and so on."

He also said that the project is unique in that it would provide the Village's housing stock ADA-accessible rental residences designed for senior citizens and mobility impaired citizens.

"Each residence will be usable by a wheelchair-bound resident," he said.

Schleelein  argued that while there are certainly benefits to the proposal, the pure volume of nine closely spaced pocket neighborhoods with 105 houses may be too much.

"Some pocket neighborhoods could be desirable," she said. "Just not nine of them all together.  It is pretty unique and I think it brings with it both pluses and minuses."

Planning Board members suggested a smaller number of homes, closer to the currently allowed 84.  But the Beers argued that while they are proposing 21 more houses than currently allowed, the number of people who could live in them is considerably fewer.  that would mean more building density, but less people density, which the developers argued would also mean less traffic and demand on infrastructure.  They estimated that 150 or 160 people could live in 105 800 to 1,200 square foot cottages, most of which would have one or two bedrooms.  They said as many as 250 to 300 people could live in the 84 much larger houses allowed in Village MDR zoning.

"I believe that a lot of the proposal does present opportunities for the Village that are not presented by the MDR regulations," said the Beers' attorney Randall Marcus. "The core of the proposal is to provide to the Village benefit that doesn't derive from an MDR.  I would keep eyes out for things like more open space, more recreational space, less density, and the opportunity to provide to the community a housing option that's not available, not just in the Village of Lansing, but anywhere in the area. The reduction of what's being proposed, and the replacement of part of what's being proposed with MDR standard as-of-right development diminishes the benefits of what's being proposed. If you go down the list of what's beneficial -- what does match up and satisfies the goals of the Comprehensive Plan -- as you take away segments of this proposal and return segments to MDR, you're losing those benefits."

Schleelein said the Lansing meadows PDA had a very clear quid pro quo in which the developer got to build BJ's Wholesale Club, while the Village got a gradual transition from high traffic commercial to residential areas with a rental senior housing development between BJ's and Oakcrest Road (which is currently being built).  She worried that such a large phased project could hit unexpected snags such as limits in sewer capacity available to the Village as a whole, saying that a sewer moratorium caused problems for developers over two decades in the past.

The Beers asked Planning board members to look on their Web site for pictures of their current properties, which they said are carefully designed to look attractive and are carefully maintained.

"I don't think your reputation or commitment is being questioned here," Schleelein said.  Planning Board Monica Moll said that once the zoning is changed for an area, the new zoning is the way it will be going forward.  She said the Board needs more information about the visual impact on existing neighborhoods in particular.  Moll suggested the Beers provide artist's renderings showing what the pocket neighborhoods would look like, saying that the visual impact to the character of existing neighborhoods is an intangible, but important aspect of their consideration of whether or not to grant a PDA.  The developers noted they have already spent quite a lot of money on a project that they still have no clear notion of whether the general concept is acceptable to the Planning Board.

There was a bit of a thaw toward the end of the evening when both sides began talking about potentially acceptable compromises, such as replacing an eight-cottage pocket neighborhood with some other use, such as a recreation area that would provide an additional buffer between the development and homes on Millcroft Road, where residents have been bitterly opposed to the cottage project.  Planning Board members said renderings would help them understand the impact of the project that they don't understand, in part, because they don't really know what it will look like to existing neighbors.

Schleelein said the developer's conference will resume at the November 12 Planning Board meeting.

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