The Lansing Town Council passed a resolution on Aug. 21 to grant a waiver to Village Solars, LLC, for an extension of the completion date of the Village Solars Community Center project to Dec. 31, 2021.
The resolution was not unanimously passed. Town Supervisor Edward LaVigne and councilpersons Doug Dake and Katrina Binkewicz voted in support of granting the waiver. Councilman Joseph Wetmore did not vote in favor. Councilwoman Andra Benson was not present at the meeting this past Wednesday.
Steve and Rocco Lucente, along with their father Rocco Lucente, Sr., are the developers involved in the apartment building and community center projects in the town. All three held a Planning Development Area (PDA) for both of those projects. The plan was for Steve and Rocco to develop the Village Solar apartment complex project—the community center was sized for this apartment building—on one portion of the property, while Rocco, Sr., would develop a different apartment complex on the other portion.
However, Rocco, Sr., passed away in March 2018. Following the death of their father, Steve and Rocco Lucente said they chose to acquire the portion of the property that their father was working on from the estate and their step-mother in order to add to their project. The logic behind this decision was to increase the project population of their project and build an even larger community center than what was originally planned.
Thus, they sent in a request to the town to grant a waiver for an extra year to sort out the estate and see if the deal for the new project would be approved. If it is approved, two apartment buildings will be built this year—the second building will replace the smaller community center that was initially proposed—along with the large community center the following year on a different footprint. However, if the deal is not approved, just the one apartment will be built along with the smaller community center that was initially proposed.
Wetmore brought up the fact that this project was already expanded once before and that expansion also included a delay in the construction of the community center. The main issue he had with the waiver request was the timing of it, since the Lucentes discussed with the bank about financing the construction of the two apartment buildings this year and the construction of the community center last year but put in the request for the waiver this past month.
Steve Lucente said sorting out the estate has taken a large amount of time and that is why they request a waiver recently rather than earlier.
“The estate was very complicated, Joe,” Steve Lucente said. “It’s taken a while to figure out who’s who and what’s what, so there’s been a little bit of a delay. As soon as we knew for sure, we took action…What we’re trying to do is take an organic approach to development. We’re trying to remain flexible. We’re watching all the new development around us.”
Wetmore assured the Lecentes he understood the difficulties with the estate and the project.
“I have no doubt that it’s complicated, and I know that these projects take time to plan out,” Wetmore said. “What I’m confused about is why you’re talking to your bank at the beginning of the year about not building the community center, and you wait until July to talk to the Town.”
Steve Lucente responded by saying the process of receiving a loan from a bank for a project like this is extensive.
“We were aware of what was going on around us,” he said. “We talk to banks all the time. We never stop talking to them, because as regulations have increased it’s taking more and more time to get a loan…So whenever you’re talking to these people, you’re always talking to them about everything that you’re doing. But to get a loan to build a project like this is a massive affair.”
The Lucentes explained to Wetmore that they needed to see what the bank could offer them, but Wetmore said he was unsure why they did not approach the town first.
“That doesn’t make sense to me, because you don’t have a definitive ‘yes’ from this board either,” Wetmore said. “You need to find out what this board is willing to do…I feel like you walked up to the wall and said, ‘Well, we’ve made all of our decisions up to this point. If you don’t say yes, you don’t have a choice.’”
LaVigne interjected and said these specifics should not take a main focus when it comes to this issue.
“Situations like this, I try not to get hung up on why you didn’t do this, why you didn’t do that,” LaVigne said. “I try it the other way: what’s the worst case scenario? What if you’re waiver is granted, and you go forward? … The worst case scenario is that you’re going to build this community center where it’s designed next year, or you’re going to build this community center elsewhere next year either way.”
Wetmore said he was most concerned about the opinions of residents about continued delays on the community center.
“I also hear from the residents that they felt they were going to have a community center years ago, and they feel like it keeps getting pushed further and further into the future,” he said.
“I just feel that it’s time to get a community center, and I don’t think we’re going to get that much more by moving it across the street. I think that the residents are expecting one now; it’s part of the original PDA and there’s a lot of what-ifs. What if you get the next piece of property? What if you come to us with a new PDA…because that’s a long process, and I don’t see that process happening so quickly that next summer you’re going to start building a new community center.”