One of the Village of Lansing's conditions for approving the commercial lot that is now BJ's Wholesale Club was that a rental senior housing development to be called 'Lansing Meadows' would be built between BJ's and Oakcrest Road that would help create a gradual transition from commercial to residential areas of the Village. That was in 2011, and early in 2012 BJ's opened. But Lansing Meadows is still am empty field. After years of holdups, largely attributed to negotiations on how to handle wetlands on the property, the project may finally be ready to go forward. And Village trustees were excited about the prospect of a coffee shop on a small piece of the parcel.
"The project has been held up for years due to negotiations with the Army Corps of Engineers on the issue of wetlands on the property," explained Village of Lansing Mayor Donald Hartill Monday. "The head of TCAT was very pleased this morning when I told her that good progress was being made, and I expect a shovel to go into the ground, hopefully, this construction season. I hope that will be the case."
Lansing Meadows was originally to be a 12 unit senior housing community that, among other features, would be a convenient walk or drive to the mall and other nearby shopping for retired residents. The wetlands and a bird sanctuary area would provide a buffer between the housing and the BJ's parcel, but easy access for residents. It turned out that the wetlands issue was more extensive than hoped, reducing buildable land area, and making the project less affordable. The developer, Triax Principal Partner Eric Goetzmann, spent a great deal of money and years negotiating a workable solution with the Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates development around wetlands.
"Originally it was very extensive and made it difficult to achieve more than 10 or perhaps 12 units on this parcel," Hartill explained. "There has been modification of that wetland problem by using a method by which you can participate in the purchase of a wetland some place else and get credit for that to decrease the wetland size here. That has happened. There's a salt marsh that's now an alternative to the wetland that was here. The map that we have now has a much smaller wetland space. The bottom line is that will allow something like 20 units on this parcel, a very significant change from the original 12 units."
Most of Monday's discussion was about the potential coffee shop, to be located on a small parcel that abuts the west end of Ciao! Restaurant's parking lot. Goetzmann said he hopes to locate a coffee shop there, though the actual nature of the business will be determined by what tenant he can attract to the location. He said that with the wetlands area finally settled, a small business within walking distance of the apartments is the last piece to be settled as the project comes nearer to finally being realized.
"The other piece is a commercial piece, which will allow people living here to get a cup of coffee or something in the morning," he said. "That would allow us to buffer the housing from the Ciao! restaurant, because that's an older restaurant with the lights and everything else."
There was much discussion about how the Village can allow the commercial use, and about parking. Goetzmann said he hopes to negotiate with Ciao! to share parking space because he does not envision that the new shop's hours would significantly overlap with Ciao!'s peak operating hours. Village Attorney suggested the Board of Trustees handle the change in use by specifically approving a coffee shop use, with the caveat that Goetzmann or some future owner could approach the Board again at some time in the future if another specific use is desired.
Hartill said that the medium-traffic commercial part of the PDA (Planned Development Area) governing the uses on the larger parcel was originally to allow BJ's, but adding an additional commercial portion to the plan doesn't fit within the defined use that allowed the large store.
"People are quite enthusiastic about what that might be in terms of a coffee shop or whatever. So that we don't have a specific category for commercial in that area other than BJ's, that we've already done. One way around this is to have you come to the Board of trustees with a proposal of what that commercial property would be. The guideline would be a use that is consistent with that medium traffic that would not be a problem. It was suggested that a coffee shop would be fine. This is a way of satisfying the spirit of the PDA and being able to go forward. I do not want to put another hurdle in front of anything to do with this parcel, period."
The Board voted that the new use of the small 'coffee shop parcel' is a minor change to the existing PDA, and scheduled a public hearing for March 20th, after which the Board will vote on the change.