After more than two years of studies, mapping, approvals, controversy, lawsuits, finger-wagging and name-calling, the senior housing plan in the Village of Le Roy called "Robbins Nest" is a hornet's nest that shows scant signs of abating.
Some villagers view the proposal to build 26 homes on 13.1 acres east of Robbins Road and south of Filmore Street as progress -- an opportunity to provide quality housing for adults 55 and over, and increase the tax base to bolster public services instead of continuing to cut them.
Others argue it would destroy the neighborhood, flora and fauna while providing no guarantee that it won't become a burden for taxpayers or that the single-story homes -- expected to go for $130,000 to $160,000 -- will even sell.
At an informal discussion at last week's village board meeting, opponents and proponents tepidly agreed that bringing in a neutral mediator would be worthwhile. And village officials acknowleged that looking into how similar developments in other places have panned out would also be a good idea.
"My trust is at an all-time low -- we need an impartial view," said resident David Boyce, who characterized the whole thing as "a debacle."
It's clear that more give and take will be required on both sides to quell the imbroglio.
"There is a compromise," Robbins Road resident Laura Robinson said. "There IS going to be development. ... There is a middle ground here and we have an obligation to find it."
About 35 to 40 people were on hand Wednesday to hear the exasperated developer -- lifelong Le Royan Pete McQuillen who also lives on Robbins Road -- say he wants closure on a planning process that has become "a blunder on many levels."
His options include:
1) Holding onto the property and do nothing;
2) Scraping the plans he's already spent thousands of dollars and a couple of years on, and develop it under the current single-family residential zoning (R-1);
3) Selling to another developer;
4) Proceeding with current plans and/or become further mired in a legal battle;
5) Trying to find a solution most residents can buy into, which would almost certainly be easier said than done.
Safe to say everyone who's been caught up in the acrimonious drama would also like to move on.
Yet the end is not near.
Boyce and Le Roy Town Supervisor Stephen Barbeau have filed two lawsuits against McQuillen, the village and the town planning board. The town and its planning board approved the project but soon after Barbeau was elected he sued them over it.
Some approval procedures were deemed not in compliance with state law, forcing McQuillen to restart the process he began in early 2010. More approvals, including that of the final plan, are needed before construction would be possible.
"The county is laughing at us in Le Roy -- this is a joke," McQuillen said.
Supervisor Barbeau would normally have oversight of expenditures related to a lawsuit and consult with the attorney. But because he's a plaintiff, outside counsel needed to be hired and the funds to do that come out of the budget Barbeau helps write and approve.
Boyce, president and CEO of Tompkins Insurance Agencies, is not happy that his property is contiguous with the Robbins Nest site. If built, it would destroy his view, the character of the neighborhood and much of its natural habitat.
(Tompkins Insurance, like the Bank of Castile, is a subsidiary of Tompkins Financial Corp.)
The point was made that a property owner's aesthetic rights are only protected up to 35 feet from the property line. So if someone ripped out trees and put up a big garage at that juncture, it would have a similar effect on the view as would a 1,600-square-foot house (or houses).
In other words, there should be no expectation that the trees Boyce recalled romping through as a child behind his house will always remain, Trustee Jennifer Keys said.
Then there's the issue of density.
"It's like putting a whale in a sardine can," quipped a woman at the meeting.
But it's less about the merits of the project, Boyce said -- despite his statements about habitat destruction and devaluing his property -- it boils down to zoning.
Boyce contends the plan doesn't comply with the village master plan, although county planners concluded it does. Some at the meeting indicated they might be more amenable to McQuillen's plans if fewer homes were included.
The county planning board voted to recommend changing zoning from R1 (single-family residential), the property's designation since 1966, to PUD (planned unit development). PUD zoning allows a developer to build without having to ask for a lot of variances.
The village board has not yet made a decision and can't, in fact, until the environmental review process is finished.
A PUD zone, sometimes referred to as "spot zoning," would be needed to build a condensed development with more houses on less land than would otherwise be allowable. It also would permit the creation of a homeowners' association (to pay for outdoor maintenance), walking trails, and let the developer retain ownership of the land but not the houses.
But it requires a "super majority" to approve, which brings up another sticky wicket. Four out of five "yes" votes would be required for a quorum.
Mayor Greg Rogers and trustees Keys and Jim Bonaquisti are in favor of approving a zoning change. But two trustees -- Bob Taylor and Mike Tucci -- have abstained from voting on issues related to Robbins Nest, citing conflict of interest.
The village attorney said the men's decision to abstain is personal choice, not something they are legally obligated to do in this case, even though Tucci is an employee of Tompkins Insurance and therefore an employee of Boyce. That's why Tucci is gun-shy of voting on Robbins Nest. And supervisor and litigant Barbeau is Taylor's nephew, so Taylor doesn't feel comfortable voting on it either.
"I can take a yes vote or a no vote, but an abstention in my mind is unpatriotic," McQuillen said. "Take your bat and ball and go home -- don't stick your head in the sand."
Another point that was brought up is whether this sort of development is appropriate for the area.
Wilson Street resident Beth Bartz peppered village trustees with questions at the Aug. 22 meeting.
"Have you done your homework?" Bartz asked. "Have you researched other communities that have these kinds of developments? What if they can't fund a homeowners' association right away?
"Are you going to need a bond measure (to bridge the gap)? Are there enough people in Le Roy who can afford a $150,000 home, plus the high taxes in Le Roy, and the homeowners' association fees? What if the homes don't sell?"
Trustees indicated the questions were valid and worth looking into.
McQuillen says everyone he's spoken to in the community "to a man" is in favor of what he's trying to accomplish and they are supportive. The aging population, himself included, likes the idea of selling their big homes to their children and moving into a ranch-style place where they won't have to rake leaves and shovel snow.
"I think we need this," resident Pete Weaver said. "This is not a low-rent operation."
At the end of the day, something WILL be built.
"I hold the cards on what's going to happen next," McQuillen said. "I didn't buy the property to sit on it."