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Repair Shop near schools rezoned B1

The Lansing Town Board approved a zoning change for a property on the corner of Ridge and Myers Roads Wednesday, after much discussion about whether what is considered a temporary change is best for the community.  In July the Town Planning Board recommended that the parcel, which houses an auto repair shop, be temporarily rezoned along with four other small zoning 'adjustments'.  But in October when the Town Board passed them into law the repair shop parcel was missing.  But some town board members said that they were righting a wrong that had been done to property-owner Karl Kohlenberg when zoning for his property was potentially improperly changed from B1 (Commercial Mixed Use) to L1 (Lakeshore).

"My feeling is that we basically righted a wrong," said Councilman Doug Dake. "People that own these properties have been in this situation for years.  We righted the wrong for the other four properties.  Why not do the same for this one, with the knowledge that we are planning on moving on with more precincts.  We're writing a wrong.  I've felt that since day one."

The repair shop was built in 1961 when it was zoned B1 (Commercial Mixed Use), and when it was rezoned to L1 15 years ago the use was 'grandfathered' so the business could continue to operate.  But under the current zoning Kohlenberg said its sale value is significantly diminished, in part because another business could not locate there and because the property is not actually a lakefront property.

Kohlenberg could sell it as a repair shop under the current L1 zoning and the use would be 'grandfathered' in despite the fact that it is not one of the uses allowed in L1, it would lose that right if the shop were closed for six months or more.  Kohlenberg says that at a time when he is considering retirement, the restrictions unfairly limit his options and reduce the value of the property.

The only other B1 zone in the Town encompasses the Town Center Land and land south of Auburn Road including Cayuga Vista Road and reaching almost as far as Asbury Road, and a stretch along Ridge Road that ends at Portland Point Road.

Long-time Planning Board member Larry Sharpsteen said that the property had been zoned B1, but in 2003 the Town Board inexplicably changed it without notifying property-owners or the Planning Board, and not asking for recommendations from the Planning Board.  He said the Planning Board heard about it after it had been enacted.

"I didn't get notified, and at the time I was in constant contact with the Town because I was building a house in 2003," Kohlenberg added.  "It wasn't like I wasn't getting my mail."

Town Attorney Guy Krogh said that it might have been legal, but doing it that way was quite unusual.

"You have to have public hearings," he said. "You have to do it either by ordinance or local law.  If it was done under the Municipal Home Rule law technically (you do not have to notify property owners).  if it was done under Town Law 130 or 265, yes.  Normally there are notices.  Normally zoning changes are processes with community input."

Nearby resident Melanie Malone said she has nothing personal against Kohlenberg, but said that simply zoning his property B1 is out of keeping with what the area has become, and would only benefit Kohlenberg and not the community at large.  Councilman Joe Wetmore argued that he would prefer to expedite the rezoning of that area, which is part of a larger deliberation being undertaken by the Planning Board, rather than returning it to its original B1 zoning now and shortly thereafter changing it again.

"I agree that this wasn't done properly in the past and I am appalled at the idea of the Town Board changing zoning without talking to the property owners, without talking to the Planning Board, without making it a public discussion," Wetmore argued. "Because this is a public process, and that's all wrong.  I don't want to correct it with a process that doesn't feel right either.  I want to see a process that solves this one and for all, rather than kicking it around and changing it back and forth, which I think is a bad process. It feels like we're doing something for Mr. Kohlenberg as opposed to doing something for the community.  Let's do it right once and for all."

But Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne pointed out that the Planning Board had already made its recommendation, and the Town Board had chosen to defer this part of it when it rezoned the other four parcels in October.

"I have a hard time when something has been done improperly, and we have an opportunity when we become aware," he said. "Now we're being negligent.  We're aware that something was done improperly, and we say OK, that's OK.  That's the message I see us saying here when it's not moving back to where it was supposed to be as though this wasn't supposed to happen.  When you say there was no public benefit... it was improper.  Regardless of what you want to read on a zoning map it was improper to do it.  So what kind of integrity does this board have?  This is a landowner's worst nightmare.  We have an obligation to right something when we see it's improper.  If we don't we're negligent."

Eventually the property is likely to become part of a new kind of zone.  Sharpsteen said it would be in keeping with some uses already in place on the other side of a small gorge to the east.  But he said that it is still being discussed and details have not been worked out.

"The new zone would be a mixed use zone which would allow low impact commercial uses like dentist offices, doctor's offices, lawyers... professional offices with the possibility of the same building having residential uses in another part of the building or on the second floor," he said. "Recognizing the fact that along that same corridor on the other side of the gorge, we have multi-family residential buildings already in place.  One of the suggestions that is under consideration is that would be a low impact commercial zone with mixed residential use.  With the zone named as such we could encourage reduced frontages, reduce curb cuts, and make the traffic situation safer in the entire area."

Councilwoman Katrina Binkewicz said she understood both Wetmore's and LaVigne's points of view, and asked what it would mean if the Planning Board expedited just that section of new zoning.  Lansing Planning Consultant Michael Long said that a detailed consideration of rezoning just that portion of the town could potentially take another year, pushing more significant work the Planning Board is charged with back further.

"It's going to add more time and delay, and it will dilute the focus of the Planning Board to try to get a comprehensive plan of all the zoning changes done at once," he said. "Our biggest issue, really, is dealing with the Ag Zone, which is a brand new zone which is going to be two thirds of the Town is wrapped up either in the RA (Rural Agriculture) or the Ag.  By the time you get to actually implementing this thing, that could take a year in itself."

"I certainly see both sides of the argument," Binkewicz said. "I've known Mr. Kohlenberg for a long time and he's always been an upstanding part of the community. People have great respect for him, and he's been a responsible business owner. taking that all into account, I do not have confidence that the new zoning will occur in the timely manner we would hope for.  So I am weighing on the side of righting a wrong, and propose we go forward with that."

Councilwoman Andra Benson agreed with Binkewicz, and moved to adopt the change as Local Law #6 of 2018.  Dake seconded her motion, and it passed 4-1 with Wetmore dissenting.

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