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Changing Seasons housing project in LeRay nears approval

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A stalemate over a lighting plan between the town of LeRay and a housing developer seeking to build 85 single-family houses off Route 3 across from Riverbend Estates was resolved Thursday night by the town Planning Board.

Developer Paul M. Fowler of Fayetteville was given the go-ahead to start clearing land to build the houses, contingent on approval of the project by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

To be called Changing Seasons, the development will be built in three phases on the 65-acre site, where Mr. Fowler hopes to break ground next winter. Twenty houses are to be completed by next spring, with 18- and 47-unit phases after that. Building at a pace of about 20 units a year, the goal will be to complete the project by 2016, Mr. Fowler said.

“We’re now ready to go and start clearing the land,” he said, adding he expects the Planning Board and Town Council to give the final approval for the project in July.

But Mr. Fowler, who began planning the project last year, had to aggressively defend his energy-efficient streetlighting strategy to get it approved by Town Council members, who initially were skeptical of the plan. The board originally had required Mr. Fowler to install 90 streetlights to comply with the town’s minimum lighting requirement, which stipulates that areas must be lit enough to produce a “one foot-candle level.” Objecting, Mr. Fowler plans 8-foot LED light posts in front of each house — a total of 85 — and seven at the intersections along Route 3.

At $500 per light, Mr. Fowler said, the plan will save him thousands of dollars on the project cost. The lights proposed by the town were about $2,000 apiece. His plan will save roughly $134,000.

“The town’s plan would have been cost-prohibitive,” said Mr. Fowler, who adamantly defended his plan when challenged by Town Council members in March. “The town requires a lighting district like a city, which is very unusual.”

The lights will be hard-wired to the houses and situated 10 feet from the sidewalks. They’ll include “photo eye” technology that automatically turns them on and off when the darkness reaches a certain level. Residents in the development will belong to a homeowners association and will pay a monthly fee for the lighting.

Mr. Fowler, who said the total project cost will be about $2.5 million, said he needed to take a firm stance on the lighting plan to limit costs to ensure the houses are sold at an affordable price. The two-story houses, which will have three or four bedrooms, will be sold for about $200,000 each.

“It’s part of sticking with your business plan,” he said. “If (costs) get out of control it’s not worth the putting the money in the ground. It’s not a simple matter to raise the price of the lots, because you want people to be able to afford them.”

It’s a business lesson that Mr. Fowler, who has built homes in Watertown since the 1980s, knows by heart. Changing Seasons is designed to target military families at Fort Drum, about 2 miles from the site.

“We’re trying to hit the Fort Drum single-family housing market,” he said. “You can have the best project in the world, but if there isn’t a market, you can’t sell houses.”

Planning Board Chairman Jerry D. Hobbs said board members reached a consensus after reviewing details of the lighting plan. Mr. Fowler slightly modified the original lighting plan he pitched to the town board in March.

“We all agreed that the plan they came up with is acceptable,” Mr. Hobbs said.

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