News Tidbits 10/18/2014: Disturbia in Suburbia

18 10 2014

1. The town of Lansing finds itself in a conundrum. The dilemma deals with a property known as Kingdom Farm, a 500-acre property owned by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the business branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to the Lansing Star, The land is being put up for sale with an asking price of $3 million, or $6,000/acre . That’s a little too rich for most of the farmers in the region (the average sale price in recent year is about $2,850/acre), especially since the property’s soils are marginal. There have been rumors or developers looking at the land, and some of the more activist locals are calling for the town to step in to help local farmers buy the land to keep it as an agricultural use. There’s no rush, the church group pays no taxes on the land, and their plan to build a massive development on the site faded away when the town sewer plan was cancelled. As one town official noted, Lansing only has a few dozen homes built per year, so the property would likely see some residential build-out near the road, but otherwise be unused if turned over to development. The debate is whether or not the town should step in, which has local politicians taking sides for and against, and I imagine that telling townspeople that their tax dollars are going to preserve farm land will be rather contentious.

2. Another news piece from Lansing/suburbia, this time dealing with the parcel of land next to the BJ’s Wholesale Club off of Triphammer.  Some readers might recall that senior housing was to be included with the project; in fact, it was a stipulation for approval of the BJ’s back when it was approved in 2011.

According to the Ithaca Times, that is still underway, but the developer (Arrowhead Ventures) wants to make the parcel denser. The current plan is for four buildings facing Oakcrest Road with three units each, so 12 total. I’m not sure if it’s just a repositioning of structures (the parcel has wetlands in the vicinity and is waiting on the approval of the Army Corps of Engineers for permission to build) or more units. The site is part of a PDA (Planned Developed Area, just like PDZ and PUD…heaven forbid we stick with one county-wide acronym), so it’s pretty flexible.

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3. Apparently, this is Lansing’s week of news in the Times. Bill Chaisson did some excellent research for his article analyzing development in the town of Lansing. Not only does it reveal the scope of development in the area, it also reveals the dysfunction of Lansing’s town government when it comes to discussing growth and development.

I do have one qualm with the piece – the city-data building permits say they are for the village of Lansing, not the town. According to the HUD’s SOCDS building permit database, In 2013, the town issued permits for 19 single-family homes and 10 multi-family units, and the village issued 4 single-family home building permits. The number was 25 in 2012, all in the town. There were 25 units built in the town (21 homes/4 multi-unit) in 2012, and 22 in 2011, with six more in the village. City-data.com’s data is from the town for 2012, and from the village for 2010 and 2011. Although SOCDS is more reliable, their numbers are often low biased because some numbers are “imputed”, which means they were assigned by inference. The town itself estimates 30-35 units per year, which given the population growth of about 500 from 2000-2010, is probably more accurate. Truly reliable building permit data for the Ithaca area is still rather hard to find.

Aside: Ithaca city had two single-family home permits issued in 2013, and 69 multi-family units (for 71 total); Ithaca town 2013 had 45 units issued permits in 2013 and 45 more in 2012, with 21 single-family homes in 2012 as reported by Bill’s piece.

Anyway, the piece notes hundreds of units in various stages; some are still proposed, some are approved, and a few of which are underway. The Woodland Park townhomes now number 16 (it was 6 a year ago), and the Lucentes have 12 units underway as part of their Village Solars expansion. On a matter of personal opinion, I despise the gated entry to Woodland Park, which to me is antithetical to the inclusive nature of the Ithaca area, and outright silly in an affluent town like Lansing.

More interesting is the sniping between town officials apparent in the article. Lansing was looking for a full-time town planner before the town board turned a little more to the political right. Now it’s part-time, and one of the councilmen “knew of interested parties” who will do the job. Looking at the Kingdom Farm issue, and the planner issue, and the recent stormwater problems reported in the town…Lansing has all the attributes of terrible planning at work.

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4. Now turning our attention to the city again: the city’s project review meeting, one of the necessary steps for projects going through the approvals process.  The Wegman’s retail building will begin the formal review process and get environmental review as well, 114 Catherine and the Patel Hotel (Hampton Inn Boutique Hotel thing) take the plunge with the board’s “Declaration of Lead Agency” to formally review those projects, Chain Works’s first phase gets lead agency and environmental review (which also needs to be orchestrated with the town planning board as well), and 128 W. Falls Street’s 5-unit infill project seeks final approval.

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Then we have the Purity project, which has drawn the city’s ire. The agenda succinctly says they are seeking to modify the site plan. From the looks of the version of the agenda with attachments, there’s a pretty substantial change to the exterior facade (note the dark shading in the new version is brick texture, which doesn’t show up well at low resolution), though the massing is roughly the same. The other part of it might have something to do with a parking issue that arose that may have violated the approval terms of the Purity project…the planning board has been none too enthused since the midrise apartment tower was cancelled, but additional parking was still in the proposal. In order words, the Purity owners may have broken the rules of a city board that is already angry with them. No one’s going to enjoy this meeting.


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19 10 2014
Disturbia in suburbia: 4 Ithaca area development updatesThe Ithaca Voice

[…] This opinion column was written by Brian Crandall, who writes “Ithacating in Cornell Heights.” […]

3 01 2015
News Tidbits 1/3/2015: Ringing In the New Year | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] Most of the large-scale developments are associated with the quagmire known as Lansing Town Center, and most of the smaller circles are single-family housing tracts. I dunno how much I trust this map though, because I thought the ~30 lots of Lake View/Whispering Pines/Cayuga Way were all the same project, and Cottonwood’s 20 lots only exist on maps. The 400+ units down towards the airport will make the intersection of Warren and Rte. 13 even more heart-racing. My back of the envelope math says the total number of units that I’m aware is about 600 outside the town center projects, with more in the pipeline according to the town planning board’s latest minutes. That’s pretty impressive for a town that averages 25-30 units per year. This all makes for exciting math, but I have serious concerns that Lansing doesn’t know how to manage its growth. […]

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