What strikes me most in reading the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) prepared by Newman Development Group is how little Newman is willing to give in return for what they are asking. Newman is asking for significant variances from the existing zoning, including a curb cut on 20A, a building that faces 20A, a garden center, and a principal building that is approximately 500% larger than what is permitted as of right.
In short, they are asking to use the Gateway District in support of retail sprawl and in direct conflict with the planning and zoning for that District. In addition to that, they are imposing significant adverse consequences on traffic (with thousands of new cars per day that will exceed the rated capacity of 20A and with 8 or 9 out of 10 stop-controlled intersections moving to e or f levels of service), a threat to the integrity of our National Historic Landmark District, and the certainty of additional retail sprawl to follow as a result of the “retail clustering effect” they identify as occurring in Geneseo.
Yet, Newman gives no assurances of any mitigations or protections against the adverse consequences of their project. They flatly reject the opportunity to provide any protection against a future “dark store,” despite legitimate concerns that they might abandon this store for a new location or format or if the housing recession continues to deepen.
They reject all the recommendations of the Access Management Study, including the much-discussed roundabouts proposed at Center St. and at Groveland Rd. They provide no mitigations beyond their own boundaries for the thousands of new cars they will place on the road network. On top of this, they fail even to complete the required alternative routes and precedent studies.
I have serious reservations about whether the PDD law may be used to approve a project that is so much in conflict with (rather than in furtherance of) the underlying zoning. This strikes me as an abuse of PDD law and of the state legislation that authorizes such laws. Zoning changes should be achieved by changing zoning laws, not by using PDD laws to stretch existing zoning laws beyond all recognition. As a result, approval for PDD zoning in this case would seem to be subject to legal challenge.
Further, even if the PDD law can be used in this case, I have doubts about whether the much-discussed flexibility of this law can be used entirely to the benefit of the applicant without any benefits be given to the Town. Without some benefits in return, the PDD law is being used to grant variances where variances would otherwise probably not be given.
Anyone interested in further elaboration of these issues may read the comments I have submitted to the Town Planning Board. I have submitted three separate memos on the DEIS. The first on planning and zoning issues is a 27 page pdf. The second on traffic issues is 59 pages. A third 45-page memo covers a number of issues including “dark store” protection, the effects of this project on future retail sprawl (so-called “precedent” effects) and the economic impacts of this project.
An additional 3-page memo submitted by my PDDG partner in crime, Corrin Strong, is also available as a pdf here.
Note: Please be aware that some of these pdf files are fairly large and may download slowly on modem-based connections.