The headline above could have run in local papers on June 2, 1995. The previous evening, the Town Board unanimously approved the “Town of Geneseo Interim Development Act of 1995,” which froze submission or consideration of any development proposals in the Gateway District for six months.
Never mind that when the Village contemplated exactly the same move for exactly the same reasons a few years ago, many of the same Town (and County) officials who endorsed the Town’s moratorium acted as though the Village had lost its mind (not to mention its right to self-determination).
What really interests me about this moratorium and about the new zoning that followed it, however, is how much it was motivated by opposition to Big Boxes in the Gateway and how much that opposition was motivated by concerns about traffic.
Much like the experience in the Village after the opening of the Super Wal-Mart, the opening of the Wegman’s/Wal-Mart plaza led to very real concerns about Big Box sprawl and the traffic on which it feeds. As a result, the Town moved quickly to draft zoning that prohibited Big Boxes in the Gateway. Taking no chances that a proposal would come in under the wire, the Town then enacted a moratorium to give it breathing room to finish that zoning.
The moratorium, drafted by then and current Town Attorney Jim Coniglio, and supported by current board members David Dwyer and Hop Manapol, expressed concern about threats to “the character” of the area arising from the “increased traffic burden” on 20A. As a result, the moratorium stated, “it is essential that measures be implemented” to limit new curb cuts on 20A and to reduce the intensity of development permissible in the Gateway.
The new zoning that was passed soon after did exactly that. By allowing only one curb cut – now known as Volunteer Road – into the Gateway and by requiring that all development be serviced by that road, sprawl fronting on 20A was zoned out. By prohibiting retail buildings larger than 35,000 square feet, the most traffic-intensive form of development was also zoned out.
So what were the traffic levels that provoked such concern back in the day? According to traffic counts taken by the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) in 1995, 11,100 cars a day crossed the Town/Village line on Route 20A. A decade later, prior to the opening of the new Super Wal-Mart, that number had increased to more than 19,000 cars. It’s likely that traffic volumes have doubled to 22,000 or more cars by now.
Traffic remains the foremost concern of Geneseo residents. Opening the Gateway to Big Box sprawl promises to add thousands more cars to 20A in the next few years. As far as I am aware, we have no planning and zoning documents enacted by the Town that withdraw its concern about traffic or that identify a different vision for the Gateway.
That being the case, I will say again that it is hard for me to believe it is permissible for zoning that was so well thought out when it was passed a decade ago to be so casually tossed aside by a hastily-passed and poorly considered Planned Development District Law simply because a Big Box developer has come to town with big plans.
[This is the third in a series of articles examining the history of the zoning of the Gateway District and its significance for today’s big box battle. The series will conclude next week.]