Once More, From the Beginning

Please bear with me for one more journey through the dusty records of the Town of Geneseo.

Having read Newman Development Group’s recently-submitted draft Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), in which they try gamely to make the case that their project really is consistent with the planning for the Gateway District, I thought I ought to take a closer look at the history of the Town’s current Master Plan, completed in 1992.

Recall from previous columns that there is no credible argument to be made that Newman’s proposal is consistent with, or even bears a resemblance to, the zoning for the Gateway (though that doesn’t stop Newman from trying). A Big Box facing and taking direct access from 20A on a parcel zoned for small businesses facing and taking access from Volunteer Road isn’t close.

However, the relationship between the master plan that preceded that zoning and Newman’s proposal is a different question. It is at least conceivable that the Master Plan, which is by definition a broader and more abstract vision of the community than is zoning, is less hostile to Newman’s plans.

That’s Newman’s story, certainly. As they write in their recent submission, their proposal “is consistent in all regards with the planned growth for the Gateway area.” Elsewhere, Newman writes that their project is “compliant with the objectives, goals, and land uses” of the master plan, that their proposal is intended “to further the development goals of the Town,” and that a development of the scale they propose is “entirely logical” in the eyes of the master plan.

Definitive statements, each suggesting that the Town has long unrealized plans for Big Boxes studding the Gateway that are finally coming to fruition. Is this what the record shows?

Not so much, it turns out. In fact, I can’t find any record that the Town Board actually enacted the master plan that was recommended to it by the Town Planning Board in 1992: no public hearing, no SEQR findings, no Town Board vote, or even Town Board discussion. Neither is there any record of any support for additional Big Box development subsequent to the Wegman’s/Wal-Mart plaza.

Rather, the record reflects that the Town Board “accepted” the draft master plan from the Planning Board and took no further action. The document they accepted is light on details on what is now known as the Gateway District, favoring commercial and industrial development in this area and emphasizing the need to limit strip development. There is no record of the Town Board ever discussing these issues.

I don’t know what it might mean that the Town did not formally enact the master plan, though I don’t think it can be good news for those claiming authorization to build a Big Box explicitly prohibited by the zoning.

The 1992 master plan was conceived in 1985, at a joint meeting of the Town and Village Boards, in response to concerns about the growth of the college, the opening of 390, and sprawling residential and commercial strip development. The new plan was intended to replace the Town’s 1966 plan and the Village’s 1976 plan.

The Town and Village Planning Boards, working together as the Comprehensive Plan Action Committee (CPAC), took responsibility for drafting the new plan. They began work in early 1985 by distributing a community survey, the results of which found traffic, particularly on 20A, to be the community’s foremost concern, followed by sprawl and rental housing.

Over the course of the next several years, meeting regularly, CPAC produced a draft that focused on reducing strip development (by limiting the number of curb cuts into new developments) and identifying appropriate locations for different types of development. For reasons that are not entirely clear, this 1988 draft plan then sat idle for a few years.

In 1991, probably as a result of the planning and zoning urgency created by the Wegman’s/Wal-Mart proposal (which was proposed in December 1990), CPAC retained Phoenix Associates to deliver a final master plan. Phoenix drafted papers discussing the major issues and organized a public meeting on December 10, 1991.

The Gateway District received little attention in this master plan. Commercial development was planned for that area, though the accompanying record suggests that little actual development was foreseen for the time being as in-fill development occurred in the Village and new development was focused south of 20A.

Beyond the vague language of the master plan, the only specific reference to potential development in the Gateway comes in the committee’s issue paper on commercial development, which states that “requests for commercial development in this area are likely to be for small to moderately sized individual commercial uses.”

With events outpacing planning, the Town Planning Board voted unanimously to accept the draft master plan at its May 11, 1992, meeting, and forward it to the Town Board. It then moved on to reviewing the Wegman’s/Wal-Mart proposal and writing new zoning for the Gateway. And there the story ends.

Vague language in a draft plan; that seems an awfully rickety foundation on which to build a Big Box!

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