The arrival of Rochester public relations firm Public Strategy Group on the scene of our local Big Box battle, as exposed in Corrin’s latest column, is certainly a troubling development. To know that a PR firm is working to create public support, or at least the appearance of support, for Newman’s folly should send shivers through anyone who believes in self-determination.
After all, shouldn’t a truly worthy project sell itself? Shouldn’t organized support for this project have emerged on its own by now if such support was worth giving? (Certainly the opposition to this project emerged spontaneously.) Isn’t a company that sells the service of “forming a local group in support of your development,” as PSG advertises on its website, actually engaged in perpetrating a kind of fraud?
As troubling as it is, though, PSG’s sleazy strategies are business as usual for Newman’s well-heeled team. Indeed, the entire history of this project is one of powerful outside interests trying to impose their will and their Big Box on Geneseo while trying to make it appear as a local initiative.
The Planned Development District (PDD) law itself, the original sin in this long affair, was also created by an outside corporation and imposed on us. We didn’t write the PDD law, Newman did. We didn’t even ask for it. It is and always has been nothing more than a vehicle to drive a Big Box through our home-grown zoning.
That Big Box, dressed up by Newman as the quaintly-named Gateway Town Center, was also imposed on us by Newman and its local allies. There was no public outcry for more Big Boxes, more traffic, and more sprawl. In fact, all the evidence we had from community surveys conducted before anyone had even heard of Newman was that most people thought we already had too much traffic and sprawl.
Beneath all of the arguments for and against retail development, and for and against the Town administration that has worked so hard to advance Newman’s proposal, is the core issue of self-determination. Who decides Geneseo’s future? Though we may not all share the same vision and may not all share the same view of the consequences of embracing retail development, there has been little debate about the importance of self-determination and about how little self-determination is being permitted in this case.
No one bothered to ask Geneseo whether it wanted another Big Box. When we learned we might be getting one, no one listened when we said, politely at that point, that we didn’t think that was a good idea. The master plan committee, John Zmich’s tenure as chair of the planning board, PDDG’s requests to appear on the Town Board’s agenda, the whole by-now familiar list of skirmishes, were all attempted acts of self-determimnation, and all of them were casualties in the battle to deny Geneseo the right to decide its own future.
The end of this increasingly desperate and bankrupt campaign is near. Geneseo gets to decide Geneseo’s future on November 6. Though there are many candidates and the outcome is far from certain, I think the one sign we can all agree to put in our yards is “Geneseo is not for sale.”