LANSING, N.Y.—Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A Dollar General has been submitted for review by the town of Lansing Planning Board.

Plans submitted to the town of Lansing call for a new store location to be built on what is currently farmland between 1122 and 1148 Ridge Road (NYS Route 34B). The property would be reconfigured in a subdivision to allow for construction of the new store on about two acres of the 23-acre farm.

The latest Dollar General proposal would be the third built in the town of Lansing in just the past few years, and among half a dozen opened in the outlying towns of Tompkins County in the same relatively short time period. The Dollar General at 1989 East Shore Road opened just a few years ago, and the Dollar General at 1180 Auburn Road in North Lansing is under construction right now.

As planned, the store would be a 10,640 square-foot building, of which about 8,500 square feet would be allotted for the sales floor. The store would include an access driveway and a parking lot with 43 parking spaces, and a paved area at the rear to allow for loading and unloading of transport trucks. Working with Dollar General corporate on this project is Bohler Engineering of Albany, a firm that specializes in the planning and buildout of chain stores across Upstate New York.

Neighborhood opposition to the project has been widespread and vocal, with a number of letters submitted to the town planning board asking for the project to be halted. The arguments include stormwater issues, not being as good a fit with the surrounding residential and agricultural area, and a number of letters that just outright say there are too many dollar stores in Lansing and it’s killing local businesses, a point that came up earlier when the Auburn Road store was proposed and the owners of the Lansing Market expressed concern that the grocer would lose so much customer traffic to the dollar stores saturating the community that it would have to close.

“Our rural neighborhood is not meant to have a retail store such as the Dollar General. No matter what the developer does, or says he will do, will not make it look like it blends in with the rest of the community,” says neighbor Kris Kaplan.

“I am also concerned about how the developer is doing the bare minimum and always looking to find the loopholes. It shows Dollar General is not interested in being a good neighbor, they just want to get another store built. An example of doing the bare minimum is the planning board asking the developer to post signs on the site to notify people of the public hearing. The developer complied and posted signs, but the signs are so small that they are not able to be seen from the road when driving and are even difficult to read when standing on the side of the road. Yes, there are signs, but they are useless,” Kaplan added.

However, even with the neighborhood opposition, the Dollar General proposal complies with the town zoning. The town passed a revised Comprehensive Plan a few years ago, and an agriculture protection plan, neither of which envisioned anything other than agricultural and low-density residential uses for properties in this stretch of Ridge Road. Most of the zoning discussions over the past decade or so in Lansing have focused on the more built-up areas adjacent to Lansing village and lakeshore, with all the zoning debates and code changes that have gone with it.

However, the zoning for this property is “Rural Agriculture” (RA), which allows for the construction and operation of retail buildings with site plan review. Unless there’s something very unusual that would cause it to get a positive declaration for potential adverse impacts in environmental review (that normally takes a very large or complex project, which a 10,000 square-foot store on vacant land is unlikely to trigger), it’s likely to be approved with routine review. An attempt to change the site zoning after the proposal’s been submitted would likely lead to a lawsuit, and state court precedent generally sides with the developer in similar circumstances.

In other words, there can be requests for mitigations, with plantings and architectural design features and the like, but there isn’t much that can be done to stop the proposal because it’s all legally conforming. This isn’t like Ithaca, where most projects need zoning variances because the zoning is outdated by decades, and that offers an avenue to halt an undesirable plan. The Dollar General is consistent with the legal code, even if the town’s Comprehensive Plan guidelines don’t support it. Guidelines aren’t laws, and even if residents and board members don’t like the proposal, the neighbors and the Planning Board don’t have many options here.

“I have not found anyone in favor of the Dollar General on Ridge Road. I believe many of our Planning Board members do not want the Dollar General built but, due to the zoning, they feel as if their hands are tied. Lansing needs to have the zoning updated. Just because it is permissible, [it] does not make it right,” said Kaplan.

In their plans, the development team states the choice of Hardie-Board (fiber cement board), stone veneer, and the little gable roof feature at the entrance is an effort to present a more attractive building to public viewsheds, and a number of conifer trees will be planted to reduce the building’s visual impact. The state gets to weigh in on plans as Ridge Road is a state highway, and NYS DOT has already signed off on the proposal.

The project will require a few months of review from the board to make sure all the paperwork is complete and any expected adverse impacts are effectively mitigated – an argument that would have to come more from traffic of stormwater than from discussions of neighborhood character. Should everything check out, the project would likely be approved in the first few months of next year for a late 2022/early 2023 buildout.

Brian Crandall

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