Village of LansingThe Village of Lansing Hall was filled to capacity Monday as Trustees considered whether or not to begin a process that may change the zoning of a parcel on Bomax Road from a Business and technology district to High Density Residential zoning.  Over 50 residents crowded into the meeting room, and nearly 20 addressed the board, most in opposition to rezoning the property that is near their neighborhoods.

The proposal was prompted by a proposed 140-apartment project that Park Grove Realty, LLC has proposed for the property that is between residential neighborhoods developed by the late Ivar Jonson and his wife Janet (IJ Construction of Ithaca) and the business/technology zone that includes the Cornell Business and technology Park by the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport.

"If this was in your neighborhood, how would you feel?" demanded Lisa Bonniwell, Ivar and Janet's daughter.  "If you just bought a beautiful home and now they're considering putting an apartment complex a half mile away?  It is personal.  It's personal to each and everyone here.  That's why we are here, because this is something that should not happen."

She said if a business were built on the parcel executives would want to buy in the existing neighborhood, and criticized the proposed development as not being friendly for senior living, and concluded that if the project is to be built in the Village it should be placed in an area that is already zoned for multi-residential development.

Janet Jonson simply said, "I'm speaking for Ivar.  As you all know he meant it to be a certain way.  So I am fighting for the way he thought it should be."

Apartment Proposal The proposed project is for 140 apartment units on a property on Bomax Drive. The apartments would be spread among 14 Buildings, each with ten apartments -- four on the ground level and six upstairs. Each apartment would have its own entrance and garage. While the zoning change does not require that this project go forward, it would be impossible for the project to be located on the parcel unless the zoning is changed.

Mayor Donald Hartill tried to keep order in the room, explaining that the evening's proposal was strictly for the zoning change, not for the proposed apartment project.  He noted that if the developers choose to go forward with the project it will be considered separately by the Planning Board.

"It's not about a specific project," explained Hartill.  "It's about whether that's the right thing for the Village to do.  This is about a zoning change, not about a project."

It may be unfortunate that state law dictates that a local law be proposed before a public hearing can be set.  Residents complained bitterly about the lack of notice that a zoning change was being considered, noting they would not have known the Village Trustees planned to set a public hearing date if IJ Construction hadn't sent a letter urging them to attend.  Village officials explained that once a public hearing time is set notice is placed in the local newspaper and on the Village Web site.  Village Attorney David Dubow explained the local law would need to officially proposed to start that process.

"They would introduce the actual local law at this meeting or some subsequent meeting," he said.  "If nobody takes the opportunity to introduce that local law there is no action to be taken.  For any member of the Board to initiate the process of review and evaluation of what's being proposed, that person would have to formally introduce the local law to the Board, in which case the Board would make a determination as to whether they want to proceed and hold a public hearing."

Zoning ChangeIt was standing room only at the Village of Lansing Hall Monday night when residents spoke out against a proposed zoning change.

Many speakers expressed concerns about the impact on wildlife, trash, litter, traffic, empty units at nearby developments on Warren Road.  Architect and engineer Larry Fabroni said the Jonsons had been invested in the area since 1989, developing townhouses and single family homes and neighborhoods with pathways and green spaces.  He said a business on that property would not generate the volume of traffic 140 rental units would.

"It's a tremendous change, all day long, all weekend long.  You'll have transient people living there now instead of workers who park and leave and enjoy the neighborhood — at lunchtime we have workers who walk the trails and enjoy the neighborhood as was planned.  It's a dramatic change.  It wasn't part of your comprehensive plan.  it wasn't part of your zoning.  I don't know why you'd even have a meeting to consider rezoning it based on what you've just been through for the last two or three years."

But Planning Board member Lisa Schleelein said the Planning Board consulted the comprehensive plan and found many reasons to support rezoning the parcel, including creating a buffer zone between residential and business zones.

"I would have to disagree that this isn't in concert with our comprehensive plan," she said.  "In fact I think the whole area recognizes there is an urgent need for housing, period."

Schleelein, fellow Planning Board member Debra Dawson and representatives of the proposed development Jess Sudol and Tom LaVigne were frequently interrupted by residents.  Sudol said the proposal is a 'down-zoning' for an upscale apartment project that would be compatible with existing neighborhoods and have less impact than a large industrial business.  LaVigne, an equity partner in the project, was shouted down as he tried to explain why he believes the project would be good for the existing community.

Andrew Bodewes and Tom LaVigneApartment project development Partners Andrew Bodewes (left) and Tom LaVigne attended the meeting to support the zoning change.

"What I’m hearing from all of you is you understand that we need to grow… you understand that we need places for people to live," Dawson said.  "You understand that we need senior housing, but you don’t want it in your back yard.

At this point she was interrupted with objections that there are other places to build such a project.

"Not in the Village of Lansing," she replied.  "Over 95% of our high density residential property in the Village of Lansing is already built out.  We still have a housing shortage.  What’s changed in our community is that Cornell no longer plans to have a business built on that property, and you should be happy for that because the things they could build there are horrible."

After the last speaker the board considered whether to propose the law in order to begin the process of considering the zoning change.  Hartill outlines his view of pros and cons of rezoning the parcel. 

"I find it not an easy choice," Hartill said.  "I think we need to talk about it and set a public hearing so we can have a formal discussion.  So I'd like to hear from my colleagues."

Trustee Ronny Hardaway read a prepared statement in favor of the proposed project.  He noted the parcel has been vacant for decades, and Cornell University had evidently abandoned its intention to build business/technology projects with its willingness to sell the property to Park Grove Realty.  He noted that the Village Planning Board had reviewed the issue and recommended the zoning change to the Board of Trustees.  He addressed the concerns raised by many of the speakers, noting that a transient population is a side effect of college faculty and students, and that the development would be a high end community with many features that would enhance the Village's overall plan.

Trustee Pat O'Rourke agreed with Hartill there should be a formal public hearing.

"I think we've heard a lot of very interesting arguments for and against," said Trustee Gerry Monaghan.  "In order to do our due diligence it would be appropriate to have a public hearing. There is a lot to consider and I would like to hear more about it."

Monaghan moved the proposed local law and Hardaway seconded it.  It was unanimously approved, and a public hearing was set for Monday, October 17th at 7:35pm.