Memo to the Livingston County Planning Board

RE: Gateway Town Center proposal
FROM: Bill Lofquist and Corrin Strong,
for Please Don’t Destroy Geneseo
DATE: June 11, 2008

The Gateway Town Center (GTC) project, a large-scale retail development proposed for the Gateway District in the Town of Geneseo, is in direct conflict with Town of Geneseo planning and zoning for the Gateway District, the County’s DAN Plan, and state and local laws and policies enacted to fund construction of Volunteer Road. As a result, and for the reasons discussed below, we believe this proposal must be rejected. In the alternative, we propose mitigations that would alleviate some of the worst conflicts between this proposal and existing planning.

The Gateway District was created by a series of zoning laws enacted by the Town of Geneseo is the mid-1990s and by the construction of Volunteer Road several years later. That zoning, which was drafted with the professional assistance of Phoenix Associates, now Clark Patterson, is explicit in its prohibition of retail development that faces or takes access from Route 20A. That zoning also exhibits a strong preference for non-retail development, by imposing strict building size limits and other limits only on retail businesses.

The written record created by the Town Planning Board in drafting the existing zoning makes it clear that these restrictions were intended to prevent the development of another large-scale, traffic-intensive retail plaza across the street from the Wegman’s/Wal-Mart plaza and to prevent retail sprawl along the frontage of 20A. Yet, this is precisely the type of development represented by GTC.

In reviewing this zoning at the time of its enactment, the County Planning Board voiced strong support for the Town’s efforts. In particular, the County noted that, like the proposed zoning, “the DAN Plan also discourages ‘strip development.’” Continuing, the Staff Report noted that “the general purpose of the [Gateway] District is to control development in this area of the Town and to prevent development directly along Route 20A and Lima Road in order to reduce potentially significant negative impacts such as traffic congestion.”

In addition to enacting the Gateway Overlay District zoning, the Town pursued county funding to support the construction of Volunteer Road. The clear intention of the construction of this road was to facilitate development of the Gateway for non-retail development and that this road serve as the primary or even exclusive access point to development in the Gateway.

Funds for the construction of Volunteer Road were provided in part by the Livingston County Infrastructure Capital Program, which was created pursuant to state law (Chapter 644 of the Laws of the State of New York) that prohibited the use of program funds to support retail development. The Livingston County guidelines for that program reiterated that prohibition, stating that projects funded by the program “must be in direct and bonafide support of an economic development objective. Such projects include manufacturing, research, distribution and corporate office developments. Projects proposed in support of housing, commercial or speculative developments will not be considered.”

The Empire Zone established in this area in 2005 represents an additional level of Town, County and State planning to support non-retail development in the Gateway District.

In direct conflict with this planning and zoning, with State law and local policies, and with the sound economic development and traffic and sprawl control principles they represent, Newman Development Group has proposed a large-scale retail proposal along Route 20A and taking direct access from Route 20A. Due to these many conflicts, we believe the GTC proposal is not only inappropriate for this site but is impermissible.

Further, we believe the use of the Town’s Planned Development District (PDD) law to circumvent these conflicts results in an additional legal obstacle for this proposal. The state law authorizing PDD laws is explicit that such laws must be used “in furtherance of” local planning and zoning. For the reasons outlined above, the GTC proposal is in direct conflict with such planning and zoning.

The Town Planning Board’s SEQR Finding that the proposed Lowe’s building be oriented toward Volunteer Road and be slightly smaller than its originally proposed size represent their recognition of the requirements of the zoning for the Gateway. However, we do not believe these modifications go far enough to protect the integrity of the existing planning and zoning.

Of particular concern is the access road to GTC proposed for Route 20A at Morganview Drive, which is also prohibited under the underlying zoning. This road will result in yet another unsignalized access point to 20A, characterized by long delays and dangerous left turns. More troubling, this access point will serve to promote additional retail sprawl fronting 20A to the east.

The developer’s own traffic study by Fisher Associates indicates that, if this access is built, those seeking to make a left hand turn off Morganview Road will experience an increase in their average wait time during peak hours from the current 51 seconds to as much as 451 seconds!

In addition, the town’s traffic consultant, Bill Holtoff of Stantec, has repeatedly advised the board that it is unlikely that the Morganview intersection will meet state DOT warrants for installation of a traffic light at any time in the foreseeable future. We believe that to go forward with such an entrance in the face of this record would be irresponsible.

Accordingly we request that the County Planning Board adopt a recommendation that this access point be removed or be limited to delivery and emergency vehicles only.

The record in this matter, including the DEIS, the FEIS, and the many memos that we have submitted over the past two years provides extensive documentation for every statement that we have made in this memo. Unfortunately, the record also contains many inaccurate statements by both the developers and project supporters which seek to distort the nature of the underlying planning and zoning. Since the record is so voluminous and confusing, we stand ready to help clarify any point or answer any question either by e-mail, phone or at your meeting tomorrow.


Bill Lofquist
Corrin Strong


To the Table, Reluctantly

I don’t like the Gateway Town Center proposal. I don’t like anything about it.

I don’t think we need another big box and we surely don’t need another pharmacy. I don’t like the effects a Lowe’s will have on locally-owned hardware, lumber, appliance, kitchen and bath, and garden stores throughout the county. I am concerned that even more retail for Geneseo will mean even less business for every other surrounding burgh.

I don’t like the effects of another huge retail plaza on already congested roads. 20A is already overcapacity, as indicated by all the Geneseoans who refuse to use it. More traffic and more sprawl will do more damage to our community’s character and our Historic Landmark status.

I don’t think large-scale retail in small towns and rural counties is viable in the long term. Rising fuel prices and the slowly dawning reality that a nation cannot continually spend more than it earns will soon leave us with far more retail space that we can fill.

I particularly don’t like the tactics that have been used by Newman and others to see this project built. The Planned Development District (PDD) law was enacted to subvert local planning and zoning, no two ways about it. The Gateway was never intended for large-scale retail development. Good people on the defunct master plan committee, the Planning Board, and in the public have been treated badly due to their opposition to this project.

For all these reasons and others, I’d like nothing more than for Newman to pack it up and leave. I believe that’s what’s best for the community and I believe that’s what the law requires.

For all these reasons and others, it’s hard for me to – I’m having troubling finding and typing the words – say that I support the Planning Board’s efforts to find a compromise.

Their effort to minimize the worst effects of the proposed Lowe’s by requiring a smaller building facing Volunteer Road with only limited access to 20A is noble. They have breathed some life back into the zoning for the Gateway. They have tried to use the PDD law as it should be used – to allow “flexibility” in development – rather than to eviscerate local zoning. They have tried to limit the sprawl to the east by directing development down Volunteer Road.

In the process, they have helped to bring this matter closer to a much-needed conclusion and to avoid protracted litigation.

I have my concerns with their proposed compromise. I think the proposed Lowe’s should be required to be the 94,000 square foot model that Lowe’s advertises as its small town model. (It’s crazy how what was once huge – the size of our first Wal-Mart – is now “small”.) I think every effort should be made to ensure that the 20A access being permitted for trucks and emergency vehicles doesn’t become the entrance to the next big plaza to the east.

Most of all, I think the Planning Board and the Town Board must resist any effort to undo the compromise that has been reached.

Finally, I also think it would be a good idea for the Planning Board to direct the Town Board to scrap the PDD law, or at least modify it to limit how much proposals can deviate from the existing zoning. Let this be the last time the community goes through such an ordeal.