Roy Luft, a landowner interested in developing the Biggs Parcel

At their meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 22, the Tompkins County Legislature Government Operations Committee voted to give the Indian Creek Neighborhood Association until Jan. 15 to make an offer on the plot of county-owned land commonly known as the Biggs parcel.

Roy Luft, a member of the neighborhood association, said he would be willing to develop a portion of his 10 acres of open field, which is adjacent to the Biggs parcel, if the county would be willing to sell him the publicly owned land. His property is located at 1317 Trumansburg Road, south of Indian Creek Road. He told the committee that he would build a clustered subdivision on his open land and a portion of the Biggs parcel to create individual owner-occupied homes geared toward senior citizens, something that his land alone is not big enough to accommodate. None of the trees on the wooded portion of the land would need to be cleared, he said.

Luft believes this is a superior solution to the one proposed by the county in 2014. In that plan, NRP Properties of Cleveland, Ohio, would have built an affordable housing development on the former county health department property. The company withdrew its proposal after finding more extensive wetlands on the land than expected. Members of the Indian Creek Neighborhood Association asked that the county hold off on issuing another request for proposals so that they could try to come up with a viable way to preserve the woods. 

At the recent meeting, Luft said senior housing would is a better fit for the area than affordable housing. “The key reason the housing is for seniors is that we’re in the Enfield school district, and children in the area have to be bused 13 miles to their school,” Luft said. Gearing the housing toward seniors would solve that issue, he said. (Luft was referring to the Enfield Elementary School, which is part of the Ithaca City School District, and ignoring the Open Enrollment program, which allows parents to choose any elementary school for their children.)

“The NRP project was not environmentally friendly,” he added. “It involved cutting down the woods, busing children such a distance and putting a burden on the most overused intersection, the ‘octopus’ on [Route] 96, the busiest intersection in the county at peak hours. There’s a shortage of senior housing in general and a desire to increase the tax base, but cutting down the woods is not the appropriate way to do that.”

Luft estimated a project like this would probably take two to three years to go through the planning process. “And certainly I would have no interest in buying the woods if this wasn’t going to go forward,” he said. “I can’t afford to buy the woods just to protect it.” 

Members of the Indian Creek Neighborhood Association have argued at previous Government Operations Committee meetings that it’s difficult to know how much they should offer for the land without any indication of what the county would accept.

At the end of the meeting the committee went into executive session to discuss the matter. When they returned, Committee Chair Dan Klein (D-Caroline) said the county got back the results of a current assessment of the land but that the committee would not publicly share that dollar amount at this time.

Legislator Rich John (D-Ithaca) said that the county would be willing to consider offers below the 2009 assessment of the land, which was $340,000.

In a vote of four to one with Legislator Dooley Kiefer (D-Cayuga Heights) voting against, the committee approved the resolution to give the neighborhood association until Jan. 15 to make an offer on the land. As of that date, the county will begin taking steps to list the parcel.

“The fact that we haven’t released a number yet, I don’t see how that limits them from making an offer,” said Klein. “We’ve been inviting them to make an offer for a year and a half.” •


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