Category Archives: Big Boxes

To the Table, Reluctantly

I don’t like the Gateway Town Center proposal. I don’t like anything about it.

I don’t think we need another big box and we surely don’t need another pharmacy. I don’t like the effects a Lowe’s will have on locally-owned hardware, lumber, appliance, kitchen and bath, and garden stores throughout the county. I am concerned that even more retail for Geneseo will mean even less business for every other surrounding burgh.

I don’t like the effects of another huge retail plaza on already congested roads. 20A is already overcapacity, as indicated by all the Geneseoans who refuse to use it. More traffic and more sprawl will do more damage to our community’s character and our Historic Landmark status.

I don’t think large-scale retail in small towns and rural counties is viable in the long term. Rising fuel prices and the slowly dawning reality that a nation cannot continually spend more than it earns will soon leave us with far more retail space that we can fill.

I particularly don’t like the tactics that have been used by Newman and others to see this project built. The Planned Development District (PDD) law was enacted to subvert local planning and zoning, no two ways about it. The Gateway was never intended for large-scale retail development. Good people on the defunct master plan committee, the Planning Board, and in the public have been treated badly due to their opposition to this project.

For all these reasons and others, I’d like nothing more than for Newman to pack it up and leave. I believe that’s what’s best for the community and I believe that’s what the law requires.

For all these reasons and others, it’s hard for me to – I’m having troubling finding and typing the words – say that I support the Planning Board’s efforts to find a compromise.

Their effort to minimize the worst effects of the proposed Lowe’s by requiring a smaller building facing Volunteer Road with only limited access to 20A is noble. They have breathed some life back into the zoning for the Gateway. They have tried to use the PDD law as it should be used – to allow “flexibility” in development – rather than to eviscerate local zoning. They have tried to limit the sprawl to the east by directing development down Volunteer Road.

In the process, they have helped to bring this matter closer to a much-needed conclusion and to avoid protracted litigation.

I have my concerns with their proposed compromise. I think the proposed Lowe’s should be required to be the 94,000 square foot model that Lowe’s advertises as its small town model. (It’s crazy how what was once huge – the size of our first Wal-Mart – is now “small”.) I think every effort should be made to ensure that the 20A access being permitted for trucks and emergency vehicles doesn’t become the entrance to the next big plaza to the east.

Most of all, I think the Planning Board and the Town Board must resist any effort to undo the compromise that has been reached.

Finally, I also think it would be a good idea for the Planning Board to direct the Town Board to scrap the PDD law, or at least modify it to limit how much proposals can deviate from the existing zoning. Let this be the last time the community goes through such an ordeal.

Never Mind

Back in the day, when Newman was new to town, energy levels were higher, and it was still possible to believe that it wasn’t a done deal, the Town Planning Board set a pretty high bar for the review of Newman’s Big Box plans. That bar took the form of a requirement that Newman complete an Environmental Impact Statement analyzing “potentially significant adverse impacts” associated with its proposal.

Among the potential impacts Newman was required to analyze was the precedent this project would set for future development in the area. Quoting directly from the Environmental Assessment Form (EAF) and Scope endorsed by a majority of the Board, concern was expressed that “large-scale development tends to occur in clusters” and that “approving Newman’s proposal would “establish a precedent that will encourage high density retail development and possibly additional Big Box retailers along NYS Rt. 20A and within the Gateway Overlay District.”

Demonstrating that these were not abstract concerns, it was noted that “we have already seen this in our community with the building of Wegmans and Wal-Mart’s Plazas” and that Newman itself had originally submitted “plans to develop 14 acres to the east of the proposed project now in question.”

To evaluate the likelihood and magnitude of these impacts, the Scope endorsed by the Board required that Newman and, ultimately, the Town Planning Board itself, complete a “Precedent Analysis” to determine “the precedent [Newman’s proposal] may establish for future similar development in the Gateway Overlay District, as well as other nearby zoning districts.”

As recently as January of this year, after reviewing the environmental impact materials Newman had submitted and finding them deficient, the Town reiterated that it was still waiting for an analysis of “the impacts of additional similar development within the Gateway Overlay District … including the potential traffic impacts of same.”

So, now that the Town Planning Board has accepted Newman’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) as complete, what have we learned about the precedent effects of Newman’s project?

Nothing. Nada. Not a damn thing, except that Newman apparently did not want to answer this question and the Town Planning Board got tired of asking. As I write, the two volumes and 600 pages of Newman’s FEIS sit next to me, silent on what for me has long been the central question of this entire project.

Remember PDDG’s much talked about slogan: “Geneseo Yes, Genrietta No”? That’s a concern about precedent in bumper sticker form.

Volume I of the FEIS contains Newman’s (and the Town’s) responses to the many questions posed by the public. This is the heart of the FEIS. In response to concerns expressed about precedent, we are told that the Gateway “may” become “more desirable” to retailers, but that the Town retains the right to say no to future developers.

We are also told that Newman answered these questions last year, in its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), submitted well before the Town told them it still hadn’t completed the required Precedent Analysis.

What Newman had done, and what it apparently thinks counts as a Precedent Analysis, was to complete an Economic Impact Analysis of its proposal way back in early 2006. Nowhere in that analysis, or in the independent evaluation of that analysis completed a year later, is there any information that might be construed as a precedent analysis.

The closest we get is an analysis of the effects of Big Boxes on Main Streets. This is useful and interesting information, but go back to the EAF and Scope quoted earlier and see that the concern driving the Precedent Analysis was the effect Newman’s proposal would have on “similar” or “Big Box” development in Geneseo.

Once upon a time, the Town Planning Board obligated Newman to tell us and obligated itself to make them, whether Wal-Mart and Lowe’s get together and give birth to Target or Best Buy or Dick’s or whether we had sprawled as far as we were going to sprawl. These aren’t impossible questions to answer. Lord knows there are plenty of other communities to look to for answers.

In response to those concerns, all we get are bland assurances that we control our own destiny and that future sprawl will be limited by the amount of available land. Those answers don’t inspire much confidence and they certainly don’t constitute a Precedent Analysis.