ITHACA, N.Y. — If one were to write case studies of development, Lansing Meadows would be the example of a relatively small task with a very big hurdle.

Lansing Meadows is a retail, housing and environmental remediation project – the BJ’s Wholesale Club next to the mall, wetland reconstruction, and senior housing along Oakcrest Road in the village of Lansing. However, if one makes a trip to that part of the village, they could do some shopping at BJ’s, which has been open for a few years now. However, there are no senior apartments to be found.

For developer Eric Goetzmann of Triax Management Group, that’s a problem. His development team applied for and received a special tax arrangement to build BJ’s several years ago, a decision that was not without controversy. Goetzmann faced considerable opposition to his plan since it involved big box retail and housing outside the city, but after the IDA initially voted the project down in December 2010, a revised application that diverted some of the property tax dollars for the wetlands was passed by the IDA in April 2011 (part of the logic being that the county was in a financial bind during the Great Recession, and some increase in taxable property was better than none).

BJ’s was built and opened the following year, but the wetlands and housing have had a much longer slog. The senior housing on Oakcrest will be built on wetlands created by an overflowing culvert in the 1970s, when the mall was built. Whether they’re new or old, by law wetlands removed by development have to be replaced.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in in charge of new wetland permits, and the process is a complex, arduous one (man-made wetlands are difficult to build, and the Army Corps would rather they be done right than done fast). Goetzmann teamed up with The Upper Susquehanna Coalition and The Wetland Trust to design the “Inland Salt Marsh Bank”, which was approved by the Army Corps, but the final permits were issued only last October. Since the wetland construction process takes a while, last summer Triax asked for and received from the county IDA a one-year extension on the required construction start for the senior housing. That means that if Goetzmann doesn’t start work on the housing by this summer, he may forfeit his tax break, and the county could seek restitution.

Given that impending problem, the development team has been eager to put something forward. The latest plan for the Oakcrest Road land calls for 20 market-rate senior housing units (ten duplexes) and a small commercial component, like a coffee shop or a diner. The retail component created two problems – one was that the zoning there didn’t allow for it. The other was that the village board of trustees was okay with it, but the planning board was not. After some back and forth and a discussion of communication channels for zoning changes, the boards came to an agreement to allow a limited set of small commercial components on the eastern end of the property, like food-based retail or a recreation club.

With the planning board’s blessing, the village board is set to review and possibly approve the zoning amendment at their meeting Monday evening. If approved, Goetzmann says the final Lansing Meadows site plans and construction bids will go out shortly afterward, with construction of the senior housing to begin this summer.

Correction: The 2011 IDA tax agreement was not a PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes), but a tax arrangement that diverted property taxes to be used by the developer for the wetland construction. The Voice regrets the error.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.