Daily Archives: February 28, 2008

Painted Into a Corner

Those of us who might be referred to as “Newman watchers,” who have a particular interest in trying to understand and anticipate Newman Development Group’s actions and strategies in seeking approval for its Big Box plans, find these slow periods to be challenging.

What’s going on? Whose move is it, Newman’s or the Town’s? What’s next? We submit Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests, hoping they’ll turn up a clue. Nothing. We pore over Newman’s submissions and the Town’s responses, trying to divine the future.

Is it the quiet before the storm, as Newman prepares to push for final approvals? Is it an indication of some problems that the Planning Board has identified with Newman’s application? Is it time spent by Newman or Lowe’s considering its options in a rapidly deteriorating housing and home improvement economy? Or is it simply a normal part of a long and deliberative process, absent any larger significance?

Those among us who believe that ultimate approval is inevitable and appropriate, whom I refer to as the “build yesterday” crowd, wonder what the fuss is about. For them, time is money and opportunity lost. Fire up the bulldozers, cut the ribbon, and let the traffic, bargains, and tax dollars flow.

Those who believe that Newman’s Big Box will pave the way for more Big Boxes and more traffic than little Geneseo can handle, who fear that a whole range of local businesses may succumb to a behemoth Lowe’s, and who don’t think it’s good for us – as shoppers, citizens, taxpayers, residents of our separate towns and villages, and residents of the county – to locate all our businesses in one place, favor delay. Time is opportunity gained, opportunity to preserve the status quo a little longer, to hope for a change of plans by Newman or Lowe’s or a change of heart by local decision makers.

Though I certainly support this second group, and hope I have contributed to their cause, there is a third group (of which I may be the only member) who are eager to move this matter to its ultimate conclusion. “We” believe that Newman’s plans must ultimately fail as a result of the many flaws and problems they contain.

Taking my clues from the back and forth efforts of Newman and the Town to fashion a complete and legally adequate Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), here is what I think is going on.

The Town Planning Board completed its Scope, its recipe for the FEIS that Newman must prepare, more than a year ago. Since then, Newman has submitted a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which the Town agonized over before deciding it was complete but inadequate. The Town then provided Newman guidelines for a better FEIS. Newman has now submitted that FEIS.

My admittedly biased reading of that document leads me to conclude that it is incomplete, inadequate, intentionally unclear, and even dishonest. The Town’s initial and less than enthusiastic response to the FEIS, in which it indicated that it will need some time before it is ready to discuss it publicly and that it will be providing a preliminary written response to Newman, indicates that it has its own concerns.

The difficulty in producing a better FEIS, I believe, is that as this long process gets closer to the end, the many flaws in Newman’s proposal accumulate.

Up to this point, it has been possible to defer for another day the fundamental conflicts between Newman’s proposal and the Town’s long established plans for the Gateway. It has been possible to believe that 20A would somehow expand to accommodate all comers. It has been possible to view the PDD law as a magic wand that would make all things possible. It has been possible to believe that the good comes without the bad, that the benefit has no cost, that growth has no limits.

In a thorough process, and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) is nothing if not thorough, problems may be deferred but not denied. In the end, the questions posed by the issues deferred must be answered.

As we approach that end, Newman is finding it difficult to produce written justifications for its previous assurances. The Town Planning Board is finding it harder to reconcile this huge proposal to the state and local laws it is charged with enforcing.

Maybe there’s a way out, a way to give Newman what it wants within the limits of state and local law. I don’t see it, though, and I think Newman is spending a lot of time looking for it.