DRYDEN, N.Y. — One of the largest proposals ever to have come forth in Dryden’s town lines received conceptual approval late last month – but actual site plan approval is contingent on meeting some stipulations set forth by the town board.

“The Village at Varna” proposed by Trinitas Ventures had returned to the town board late last month with its latest set of changes – the commercial retail space at the property had been increased to 2,112 square feet, the playground size had been doubled to 7,500 square feet, and ten “family-friendly” three-bedroom units had been incorporated into the 219-unit, 602-bedroom plan (unlike student housing, “family” plans tend to include dine-in kitchens and shared bathrooms). A community garden and a greater amount of green space had also been added to the proposal.

However, while the Trinitas plan had made some effort to address nearby residents’ and local officials concerns since its first iteration came along back in May, there were still some major concerns noted at the late September town board meeting – for one thing, there were 110 four-bedroom units in the plan. Four-bedroom rentals tend to be relegated to students, as they’re too large for most families. Plus, if you have a family settling in the area for a while, and you’re looking at a $2,400/month rental, most families who could afford units of this size and price point would instead opt for buying a house.

A related question about the four-bedroom units tends to be more pragmatic. Since they’re geared to students, and with Cornell working on plans to add over 2,000 student beds to its North Campus, student-focused housing in an outlying area like Varna could end up with a high vacancy rate and financially questionable prospects, a potential issue that the Dryden town board and planning board would rather avoid.

The town board took note, and saw potential to the project, if not in its current form. They didn’t want a private student dormitory in Dryden, and wanted something that gave more benefits back to the hamlet in which it would be built. But the project poses a real opportunity to add family-friendly and workforce housing, as well as substantially grow the town’s tax base by building out a large vacant lot footsteps from Varna’s core. The goal is to get something fitting with the intents of the Varna Community Plan, while cognizant that no proposal will look 100 percent like the concept sketches from 2012.

A few days later, the town board clarified their ideas. Trinitas would get sketch plan approval, a legal go-ahead that the concept was acceptable and that Trinitas could continue with fleshing out their plans. But site plan approval, the “real” project approval that would allow construction, would only be granted if certain conditions were met.

Those include: reducing the number of four-bedroom units to no more than sixty; no more than 552 bedrooms, including no by-the-bedroom rentals, and interior plans to demonstrate family-friendly features; single family homes along the north side of Dryden Road; and a number of community features, including a bus stop, carshare and electric vehicle charging stations, a small parking area and kiosk for the Rail Trail, a pocket park, and last but not least, traffic control features and landscaping.

“Sketch plan approval was given with those listed conditions. Trinitas can now submit a full site plan meeting those requirements,” said Ray Burger, Dryden’s director of planning.

David Weinstein, a planning board member and frequent critic of development in the Varna area, was less than pleased.

“How could a board be so deaf to the vast majority of the voices in Varna?” Weinstein asked in a public rebuke of the decision. “When a board shows so little appreciation for the clear desires, needs, and visions of a community, it just makes me sick.”

In essence, the town is being wooed by a developer suitor, and told Trinitas what they are looking for in a partner. The board wasn’t telling them buzz off, but it wasn’t a hard yes either. Both sides know what the other wants. Trinitas can take the town up on its ideas, mix it in with their own goals and get the green light for construction, or it can leave without sinking in another cent.

As for the ‘will they or won’t they’? The town will patiently wait and see if Trinitas is willing to modify their plans. In a provided statement, Trinitas Vice President of Development Brad Bennett was vague if optimistic. “We are excited to be moving forward with the next step in the Town of Dryden process. Through this collaborative effort we believe that we have designed a community that will be attractive to potential residents and is consistent with the goals of the Varna Community Plan.”

“They have not given an E.T.A. (estimated time of arrival) but I would expect it this month,” said Burger.

Brian Crandall

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