[This is the second in a series of columns on the history of the Gateway District zoning and its significance for our present Big box Battle.]
You may recall that the Town Board proposed the enactment of a PDD law in the spring of 2005. You may also recall that the Town Planning Board, after initially supporting the idea, withdrew its support until after the master planning process was able to proceed. Their concern was that enactment of such a potentially far-reaching law should at least await the results of a community survey about development.
As we all recall all too well, despite strong opposition to the proposed law at a public hearing, the Town Board passed the law anyway, public opinion be damned. So began our current Big Box battle.
You may not recall that the idea of a planned development district law was considered – and rejected – by a previous Town Planning Board a decade earlier. As discussed in last week’s column, that board, fresh off an earlier Big Box battle – the development of the Wegman’s/Wal-Mart plaza – and deeply concerned about what retail sprawl meant for Geneseo, took decisive action to prevent future sprawl.
The idea of zoning the Gateway as a Planned Development District was apparently first proposed by Pat Rountree, Director of the Livingston County Economic Development Department. At a meeting of the Geneseo Town Planning Board on February 14, 1994, in the midst of the Board’s lengthy deliberations on new zoning for the Gateway, Mr. Rountree suggested the board explore PDD zoning. He was making a suggestion, not giving an endorsement.
With Volunteer Road only a vague hope, PDD zoning was viewed as a way to attract a large enough development and developer to pay to finance a road into the interior of the Gateway. That interior road, which would unlock a 200 acre parcel and allow for development to be kept away from the 20A frontage, was viewed as the key to the development of the Gateway.
Despite some concerns about the advisability of PDD zoning, the Board requested that their planning consultants collect and present additional information about the idea at a future meeting. Over the course of the next several meetings, the Board discussed the merits of PDD and conventional zoning and refined the principles it wanted to see written into the zoning for the Gateway.
As consultant Carol Riccardi told the board, the “sacred cows,” or non-negotiable principles of any future zoning, were “to keep Lima Road residential and … to avoid 20A looking like Henrietta Road.” To achieve these goals, the Board agreed that commercial development should not occur close to 20A and should not face 20A, that retail development should be limited to 35,000 square foot buildings, and that all development should be oriented to and serviced by an “internal road system with single access to Route 20A at the existing traffic light.”
The Board also decided that conventional zoning was better suited to protecting and enforcing this vision than was PDD zoning. Marge Wilkie summed up the discussions with the apt – and remarkably prescient – comment that the problem with a PDD was that “a developer with a good lawyer could come in and put in whatever they wanted.”
And here we are, one reckless Town Board and one scheming developer later, working to see that doesn’t happen.