The Advantages of Big Box Blogging

There is no doubt that the transition from the printed newspaper to this on-line forum makes it a bit more challenging for us to share the latest news in our ongoing anti-Big Box battle. As a result, we’ll have to work harder to spread the latest word about Newman Development Group’s plans to build a Big Box Lowe’s and open the Gateway to sprawling retail development.

The newspaper is familiar. It is flexible. It shows up in your mailbox and goes wherever you take it. On-line news, particularly for small towns, is unfamiliar and still developing. You have to realize that our small town exists inside your computer. You have to know where in there it is and go and find it. Of course, you have to have access to and familiarity with computers and the internet.

At the same time, there are also tremendous benefits to electronic communications. What is written here is more or less permanent and always available. No rummaging through the recycling bin to find last week’s paper. It is accessible to anyone, anywhere. It is of almost unlimited size and is also fully searchable. Most importantly, it is immediate and allows for easy and fast feedback.

For my purposes, though, the most interesting feature of this on-line format is how it allows me to tell the sorry story of Newman’s plans and its close ties to the Town developed in furtherance of those plans while also providing readers access to the evidence to support this story.

That effort begins now. For many months, I have written periodically about the billing records of Underberg and Kessler, attorneys for the Town of Geneseo, and what they reveal about the Town’s ties to Newman. Through the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), we have obtained these records and are now pursuing a number of the documents that are referred to in them. Through the miracle of the Internet, these records are available here.

Take a look at them, please. See for yourself what has led us to develop such strong concerns about the manner in which this project has gotten as far as it has. You’ll see well over one hundred documented contacts between the Town and the developers and well over one hundred documented contacts between Town elected officials and the Town’s attorneys to discuss this project.

You’ll see a pattern of contacts with agencies that offered input related to this project, from the State Historic Preservation Office to the Center for Governmental Research to the National Park Service. Leaving nothing to chance, every effort was made to ensure their support or minimize their opposition to this project. In total, you’ll see over 500 different actions taken by the Town’s attorneys at a cost of well over $50,000.

You’ll see that the Town’s relationship with Newman began well before the Planned Development District law that allowed their project to be considered was passed. You’ll see the steps taken by the Town to pass this law, apparently at Newman’s behest and certainly for Newman’s benefit. You’ll also see that the Town Planning Board opposed the passage of this law.

You’ll see that Town has, from the very beginning, sought to expedite review and approval of this proposal. As this memo makes clear even before this proposal was introduced to the public, the Town’s attorney was outlining plans to enact the PDD law and speed review of Newman’s application. As these email messages make clear, Newman recognized the Town’s attorney and the Town Board as advocates for its project and looked to them for support and assistance in expediting approval of their plans. In probably the most damning statement made in these documents, the Town’s plans to silence public input are revealed.

Seeing all this, I encourage you to ask why the Town has worked so hard on Newman’s behalf and why Town elected officials and their counsel have been so closely involved with this project even after they formally handed review of it to the Town Planning Board. I encourage you to ask what it means that the Town has shown so little regard for public input and for the public review processes through which development decisions are supposed to be made.

This column is only the first step in creating what we call The PDDG File. Click on the link at the top of the page for future installmants as we add to the evidence in the file. And finally, in the spirit of the new form of communication before us, I encourage you to post your thoughts on this evidence and the pattern of conduct it reveals by clicking on the comment button below.

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