When Newman Development Group’s plans for a big box retail development in the Gateway were first unveiled in March 2005, those plans included a Lowe’s, a pharmacy, and six to eight other medium and small-sized chain retail boxes. Each store was oriented toward Route 20A, with three curb cuts providing access to 20A and two more access points on Volunteer Road.
The 8-store version of this plan included the familiar 170,000 square foot Lowe’s and a 45,000 square foot store (perhaps a Bed Bath and Beyond, a common tenant in Newman developments) sitting back from 20A, fronted by six smaller boxes, including a pharmacy, a chain restaurant, and, perhaps, a bank, closer to 20A.
The 10-store version included the Lowe’s, a 90,000 square-foot box (perhaps a Kohl’s) next to it, and eight smaller boxes fronting 20A in a development that took in additional land sprawling all the way to the existing homes on the north side of 20A.
Perhaps because the Town Planning Board expressed concern about the number of curb cuts or perhaps because Newman took a glance at the Gateway zoning and realized just how out of scale their proposal was, Newman soon put forward a revised, scaled-down proposal including just the Lowe’s and the pharmacy.
Three years later, the status of those original plans remains uncertain. Though I have been mostly content to believe that Newman put aside its original plans for good, satisfied to complete its two-store development and move on, recently I am less comfortable with that conclusion.
Watching how much Newman has resisted the Planning Board’s demands that it submit plans orienting its buildings toward Volunteer and removing access to 20A, as the existing zoning requires, and that it complete an analysis of likely future retail development in the Gateway, I am increasingly concerned that Newman views its original plans as an unacknowledged second phase of its development.
After all, why resist facing buildings toward Volunteer Road and losing the 20A access, steps that would surely ease approval, unless there were plans or hopes for additional development to the east? Why not complete the required “precedent analysis” unless that analysis were to show that communities in which a Lowe’s follows a Wal-Mart are soon home to the next wave of chain boxes?
There remain good reasons to think that Newman’s present proposal is the only project under consideration for the Gateway. Our small, rural county can only support so much sprawl, particularly as economic conditions worsen. The overheated retail economy of the past few years has probably left us with more than enough capacity for a while. On top of that, the difficulties Newman has faced in pursuing approvals this time around would surely be multiplied next time, as traffic worsens and Geneseo’s character erodes further.
However, we would be naïve to think that this is the end, the market has found its level, and Lowe’s will bring no further sprawl. Newman’s original plans indicate they believe there is room for a lot more sprawl here. What better evidence could there be?
For more evidence, look no further than Canandaigua, home to Wegman’s, Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, JC Penneys, Bed, Bath & Beyond, PetCo, Applebee’s, Panera, Raymour & Flanigan, Big Lots, TJ Maxx, and other chain retail. Proof positive of the “retail clustering effect” taking hold in Geneseo, Canandaigua is already experiencing the next generation of sprawl.
It is also experiencing the next generation of traffic congestion, with approximately 30,000 cars a day using Route 20 in the commercial corridor (thanks to six lanes of traffic). That compares to the 20,000 cars that pass our Wal-Mart every day.
If we have any hope of controlling our own future, we would be wise to enforce the original vision that the Gateway develop along Volunteer Road. Ensuring that a quality precedent analysis is completed would also allow us to go forward eyes wide open.
Otherwise, we might be surprised by how many chain stores want to sprawl along 20A. Below is a listing of Newman’s “partners” from their web site: