Daily Archives: May 11, 2007

Planning to succeed

Master plans were on the agenda at two important meetings in Livingston County on Thursday.

In Geneseo, the Livingston County Planning Board reviewed the Village of Geneseo’s proposed new master plan. County Planning Board review is a regular step in the review of any new municipal planning and zoning. This review got off to an irregular start, however, when a member of the board attacked the proposed master plan as an anti-development, pro-college document produced by college professors.

The discussion that followed used all of the standard rhetorical devices employed against smart growth: that it is elitist, that all development is good development, that smart growth is anti-growth, that Big Boxes produce big sales tax benefits, that efforts to promote smart growth are bad faith efforts to hinder development, and that opposing Big Boxes will be defeated in the courts.

The County Planning Board then voted to reject Geneseo’s master plan 14-2. The legal effect of this is that now a supermajority vote (4 of 5) will be needed for the Village Board to enact the master plan.

It’s hard not to be a bit discouraged by this. Particularly in a village which has not enacted a new master plan in 40 years, that has seen traffic volumes on 20A increase by 300% in the past twenty years, that has seen its National Historic Landmark District designation listed as “threatened,” and that commissioned a community survey that showed very high levels of concern about traffic and overdevelopment.

Smart growth is good growth and good business and good for communities. Opposition to it and to local self-determination should at least bear the burden of providing evidence for its claims. Yet, our roadside landscape and our Main Streets and our neighborhoods wouldn’t look the way they do if smart growth were easy.

In Lima, the Town and Village Boards held a joint public hearing to consider their master plan. In the wake of the tumult caused by Wal-Mart’s application to build a mega-store in the Town and the subsequent withdrawal of that application after considerable public outcry, the Town and Village are now trying to put the horse back in front of the cart.

Their efforts to complete this important and always challenging process and to do so jointly are to be commended. At the same time, it bears mentioning that had the initial master planning effort, which began years ago and was waylaid at least in part by Wal-Mart, been allowed to finish, all of this unpleasantness might have been avoided.

Completing this process will not occur without some difficulties. The Town and Village Boards rejected some of the drafting committee’s recommendations about protecting open space and historic buildings and limiting the locations of commercial development and replaced them with weaker recommendations. The Lima Citizens for Responsible Development, who formed in opposition to the proposed Wal-Mart and have stayed active on behalf of smart growth, oppose these changes. See neverinlima.org.

On the positive side of the ledger, though, the town and village boards did keep the recommendations to limit the square footage of retail buildings to 13,000 square feet in the Village and 40,000 square feet (approximately half the size of Geneseo’s Wegman’s) in the Town and to enact architectural design guidelines. The new zoning that would be required subsequent to the enactment of the master plan would pursue these recommendations.

As of this writing, I have not received any word about how the smart growth forces fared in Lima. Whatever happened, I wish them all the best in their efforts to grow smart. They’ll need it.