Throwing Down the Gauntlet

I don’t envy the members of the Town Planning Board, positioned as they are between a developer determined to build a Big Box whatever the obstacles, a Town Board that long ago determined to let them, and an opposition committed to using every legal means to stop them. From this uncomfortable spot, the Planning Board must try to enforce the requirements of a series of complex and sometimes conflicting laws while trying to discern what Geneseo might look like if Lowe’s is allowed to open its doors.

The latest exhibit of Newman Development Group’s audacity is its recently submitted proposed Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). The FEIS is intended to represent the culmination of the long and painstaking process of identifying the environmental impacts of a proposed project. As described in the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), the FEIS should provide a concise, objective, dispassionate enumeration of the impacts of a project and straightforward responses to questions and comments about the project that have been raised along the way.

To the surprise of no one who has been watching this project, Newman instead submitted a rambling, argumentative, still incomplete, often unclear, whiney, and self-congratulatory declaration of the many benefits, no costs, and unfair burdens faced by its proposal. The inevitable result is that a lot of work will have to be done by the board to turn this mess into a legally-defensible FEIS, a state of affairs sure to provoke renewed cries of obstruction and delay from the build yesterday (and regret tomorrow) crowd.

Focused as I am on the inconsistencies between this proposal and fifteen years of planning and zoning for the Gateway District, Newman’s efforts to reconcile its proposal to that planning and zoning make particularly bizzare reading. Perhaps most remarkable is Newman’s refusal to submit any plans for a store that does not face or take access from 20A, despite specific requirements by the Planning Board and the SEQR law that it do so.

The explanation that it offers for why its project should not have to meet these requirements – basically arguing that the zoning doesn’t say what it clearly says and that the authors of that zoning didn’t mean what they clearly meant – is the very definition of chutzpah. Besides, Newman threatens, if you force them to follow the zoning by facing their store toward Volunteer Road and denying them a curb cut on 20A, their business is more likely to fail and less likely to be reoccupied, leaving us with a dark store.

You can’t make this stuff up. (But if you don’t believe me, some of their more absurd addendums are now posted on the PDDG web site.) By the way, if you ever had any doubt that Newman is counting on future retail sprawl to the east on 20A, ask yourself why they are so insistent of facing and having access to 20A.

Those most interested in traffic will find plenty of headscratchers. After having refused to complete the alternative route studies, which are intended to determine how much more traffic can be expected on residential roads due to difficulties in gaining access to 20A, Newman finally provides an answer. That answer is good news: no more traffic will result.

The reason is not such good news: everybody who could avoid 20A by driving past your house already is. That leaves us with only the new visitors and new trips to worry about, and there the news is all bad. Lima Road traffic is expected to increase 20% by the time Lowe’s opens.

In other traffic news, Newman has simply refused to study what would happen to traffic if they did not have an access road on 20A at Morganview Drive. The planning and zoning for the Gateway, which never contemplated traffic-intensive Big Box retail, provides one access point to the Gateway, at Volunteer Road. This is sufficient for the types of development planned for this area. Recognizing that forcing a Big Box into that zoning would create gridlock, Newman has apparently decided that our zoning, not their plans, must be sacrificed.

One last traffic item: Newman has calculated that 50% more traffic is possible on 20A before its capacity is exceeded and road widening is required. Even accepting this figure – and I don’t – the 5-7% annual rate of growth in 20A traffic that has occurred over the past twenty years will exceed that capacity in as little as six years, not the date of 2025 provided by Newman. More importantly, it seems to defy logic that a road that is so congested that Geneseo residents no longer use it can accommodate 50% more traffic before anything needs to be done about it.

Finally, those wondering what other big and small box chains might follow Newman into the Gateway are out of luck. Despite having been required in the Scope and in a follow up to it to analyze the precedent for future development that would be set by this project, Newman steadfastly refuses to do so. The best they could muster was a quick drive-by of Canandaigua, which led them to conclude that there is no sprawl happening there.

The project lumbers onward, straining and staggering under the increasing weight of its inconsistencies. It’s hard to watch, but those who care about Geneseo must.

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