Note: This is the text of a column printed in the August 9 issue of the Livingston County News.
Last February, the Town of Geneseo Planning Board gave Newman Development Group a list of impacts it had to assess and reports it had to complete as part of the ongoing review of its proposal to build a big box Lowe’s in the Gateway District. The list covered the major concerns about this project that have been expressed by the board and the public:
What effects will it have on traffic on 20A and intersections connecting to it?
How much additional traffic will be diverted onto Lima Road and other residential streets?
What would the traffic look like if the Gateway were developed as intended by the existing zoning rather than with a big box?
would this huge building affect views of the Genesee Valley?
How much additional retail development is likely to follow?
What does more regional retail development mean for the Main Streets of Geneseo and other Livingston County towns and villages?
As this paper reported last week, Newman recently submitted its answers to these questions in the form of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). Having now had the opportunity to review this public report and to look beneath its claims that all will be well, I believe Newman’s report is incomplete in at least six important respects. As a result, I believe the report should be returned to Newman to be completed.
Only after Newman has fully answered the questions it has been asked can the Board and the public begin the important discussion of whether the impacts of this project are ones we can live with as we try to balance our interests in economic development, maintaining a functioning infrastructure, and protecting Geneseo’s small town character and quality of life.
As we are all well aware, the level of traffic congestion on 20A is already affecting the way in which people use (and don’t use) this route as they travel here to shop or as they try to move through Geneseo on their way to Rochester or points elsewhere. For example, it is my observation that people have largely abandoned the Center St. access point to 20A in favor of using the light at Main St. or avoiding the matter altogether by using Lima and Volunteer Roads.
As the highly mobilized residents of the Lima Road area make clear, they are understandably concerned that more mega-retail development on 20A will lead more people through their residential neighborhood.
However, in studying how increased traffic volumes will affect travel routes, Newman analyzed the wrong routes. For example, rather than considering how many people coming into Geneseo on Route 63 from York, Pavilion, and points beyond will use the Court St.-North St.-Lima Rd.-Volunteer Rd. “bypass,” they studied how many people entering Geneseo from Mt. Morris, Dansville, Warsaw and points south and west will divert to 63 and then to this bypass rather than staying on 20A.
Of course, no one would choose the alternative they’ve identified. They would be diverting far out of their way. Also, they have already accomplished the feat feared by so many in Geneseo: getting onto 20A. However, plenty of people use the northwest passage I’ve identified. Newman fails to give us any idea of how many more people will do so.
Likewise with people looking to get to 390 north. Those of us who live here know that a good many people have given up on using 20A to get to 390 North. Though longer as the crow flies, Lima Rd. now functions as an undesignated bypass. It is important to know how much additional traffic will take this route if another big box opens on 20A. However, Newman studied the wrong route again.
Probably my greatest concerns about this proposal are that it is so much at odds with the existing zoning for the Gateway (courtesy of the “flexibility” provided by the Planned Development District law) that it will lead to far more intensive development than planned for and that it will set a precedent for more retail sprawl to follow.
The former issue was to be studied by comparing the impacts of a “code compliant” development scenario with Newman’s plans. However, as far as I can determine, the alternative Newman studies, a six building, 168,000 square feet retail conglomeration, is not code compliant and is certainly not part of the vision of the Gateway of the authors of the existing zoning.
The latter issue was to be studied by examining how retail development leads to follow-on retail development. This issue here would seem to be clear enough. As our own experience makes abundantly clear, chain retail likes to cluster together to draw and share traffic. It is our Wal-Mart that makes Newman’s proposal possible. What additional retail – Target, Kohl’s, Sam’s, Barnes & Noble – would Lowe’s make possible? Unfortunately, Newman does nothing to study this issue, acknowledging only that the issue exists.
For these reasons and others, many of the most important questions that the Planning Board asked back in February remain unanswered. In a matter as important as this, it is important that we get the answers before we proceed to the next stage of review.
(To read the full text of the comments I submitted to the Town Planning Board on behalf of Please Don’t Destroy Geneseo, please read “Analysis of DEIS” on The PDDG File.