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.

3 responses to “Planning to succeed

  1. How sad, sad for democracy in general and more specifically, sad for our county. I am sad for any community when its planners resort to “standard rhetorical devices.”

    Only policy makers who have read nothing about Smart Growth, its history, its core principles, and its sucessful implementation in communities in western New York and across the nation would argue 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.”

    Perhaps my sadness stems not from the pathetic level of discourse but rather my own unreasonable expectation that policy makers in my community read about current trends in areas about which they are expected make decisions.

    Smart Growth is not rocket science. Smart Growth is not some esoteric idea cooked up by a bunch of egg head college professors. Smart Growth is home grown American ingeniuity at its finest. Anyone with 15 minutes of spare time and a computer can understand what Smart Growth is all about. If you have the inclination, a computer and a few minutes you might want to check out the EPA web site on Smart Growth http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/

    The Environmental Protection Agency under a Republican administration has embraced and endorsed Smart Growth. Acording to the EPA:

    “EPA helps communities grow in ways that expand economic opportunity, protect public health and the environment, and create and enhance the places that people love. Through research, tools, partnerships, case studies, grants, and technical assistance, EPA is helping America’s communities turn their visions of the future into reality”

    How sad our policy makers can not explain why Smart Growth is bad for Geneseo and the rest of Livingston County.

  2. It is hard to understand how reasonable, fair-minded people could argue that the Village of Geneseo’s master plan has county-wide significance. (Recall that determination of county-wide significance is necessary to vote against a municipality’s master plan.) This seems like another example of ignoring and cirumventing normal procedures in order to achieve a desired, and pre-determined, outcome. But apparently the pro-big box folks never tire of using this tactic.

    Who is Geneseo’s representative on the County Planning Board, and what did this person have to say at the meeting? Was this person appointed by the Town, or by the Village? If the person was appointed by the Town, was the Village adequately represented at the hearing?

  3. All matters that come before the County Planning Board have some county-wide significance. The issue is whether the County Planning Board acted reasonably in the present case.

    In not citing any evidence to support its allegations that the proposed plan would have adverse effects on the county, it seems as if the fix was in, and the rationale was cobbled together after the fact.

    Indeed, in this case, some members of the County Planning Board appear to have allowed personal animus toward the village, the college, or smart growth to interfere with their responsibilities.

    As far as Geneseo’s representation, both the town and village have appointed members. The town is represented by Craig Macauley (formerly of the Town Planning Board) who was not present at the meeting. The village is represented by Bob Yull, a former village trustee, who was there.

    As I understand it, by County Planning Board tradition, representatives of the involved municipality are not supposed to take
    part in the debate over matters affecting their town. Despite this, Mr. Yull is reported to have commented Thursday that if the Village passed the Master Plan they would be sued.

    This argument, which is trotted out by every Big Box supporter, is based on a half truth. In this country it is true that anybody can sue anybody for any reason. Winning the case is a totally different matter.

    The Village Board is being advised by special counsel from Fix, Spindelman, Brovitz, and Goldman in this matter and believes the proposed plan would be upheld in court.

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