Category Archives: PDDG File

Decision Day Approaches

The Town Planning Board’s recent determination that Newman Development has provided all the information it needs to evaluate the impacts of Newman’s big box plans represents a big step toward the biggest step in this long saga. Now the board must decide whether those impacts – on traffic, on community character, and on growth – are bearable in a community already strained by retail sprawl.

Should the Board decide Newman’s plans fit into Geneseo’s plans, a huge hurdle will have been cleared. There will still remain other hurdles. The County Planning Board will need to give its approval, the Town Board will need to vote to rezone the property in question, and the Town Planning Board will need to work out the details of the site plan. The available record indicates these decisions are but formalities; speed bumps in the path of Newman’s bulldozer.

Now, at long last, is the time for the crucial decision to be made.

We at PDDG are busy preparing a memo to the Planning Board urging them to reject Newman’s plans. That document, which we will post online on The PDDG File when it is complete, will make three major arguments: that Newman’s plans are in impermissible conflict with Geneseo’s plans, that another big box will strain our infrastructure and cement our status as Genrietta, and that the legal requirements for making a final decision on Newman’s project have not been met due to Newman’s intransigence and the Board’s lack of proper oversight.

At its meeting on April 28 and perhaps at a subsequent meeting or two, the Board will take up these issues. We’re not particularly hopeful of the outcome, despite our confidence in our arguments.

Since helping to persuade the Board eighteen months ago that Newman’s plans required the completion of the environmental review process that is now being completed, we have had a harder time persuading the Board that Newman’s plans are fatally flawed.

Where we see Genrietta, a community that has lost its soul and its character, the Board seems to see just another big box. Where we see traffic gridlock, the Board seems to see just a few more cars. Where we see careful planning and zoning designed to prevent exactly what Newman proposes, the Board seems to see the PDD law as a get out of jail free card. Where we see Newman flouting its legal obligations, the Board seems to see business as usual.

Perhaps our standards are too high. Maybe community self-determination must bow to the almighty tax dollar. Maybe you can’t really say no to “progress,” however ugly it may appear. Maybe the procedural train wreck that has been occurring ever since Newman helped us write the PDD law they now seek to exploit is simply par for the development course.

We’ll soon see what the Planning Board decides. There is some room for optimism. Statements from Planning Board members at their April 7 meeting showed some reservations about Newman’s plans.

If the Board sides with Newman, we’ll review our legal options. That’s not intended as a threat. Rather, it represents a recognition of our core belief that Newman’s plans are for Newman’s benefit and are contrary to Geneseo’s laws and Geneseo’s interests.

In the end, the truth of that proposition will have to be determined.

Whither PDDG?

To those of you wondering what has become of PDDG, or of me, or of this column and, most importantly, of our efforts to defeat Newman’s Big Box plans for the Gateway, I would like to offer this update.

The outcome of last month’s Town elections was certainly not what I had hoped for or expected. I believed that the community that had shown such concern about traffic and sprawl and such support for Geneseo’s small town character in a recent community-wide survey would elect people committed to their same vision. I’m not sure why that didn’t happen.

Maybe the personal appeal of candidates overwhelmed ideas and issues. Maybe the muck got too deep for people to wade through. Maybe the community is less committed to a particular vision of itself and its future than I believed. Maybe economic anxieties trumped.

Whatever the case, the election results, fatigue from the campaign, and the need to spend some time doing the job I’m paid to do, have led me to refocus some of my energy.

There is also another reason for my and PDDG’s lower profile these days. After a hard push to write all of our many comments on the problems with Newman’s Big Box proposal and with the Draft Environmental Impact Statement that it produced as part of the review of that proposal, there hasn’t been much to do or say.

Those comments, which were submitted to the Town Planning Board on November 8, pretty much say it all: that Newman’s proposal is impermissible under state and local law and that its DEIS is so badly flawed as to require a substantial rewrite.

Once Newman is made to answer the questions required of it by the scope – questions related to how much additional traffic will use residential roads to bypass the congestion on 20A and how much additional retail sprawl will follow this Big Box and what Newman is willing to do to offset the costs of its development – the scale of this folly will be revealed.

Sour grapes, you may say. I don’t think so. Sure, I wish the election had turned out differently. Life would be easier if it had. However, we are a nation of laws and law protects us from the tyranny of the majority.

If that majority would like to change the law, it may do so. Until then, however, Newman’s proposal must be evaluated under the laws we have and I don’t think those laws look favorably on this proposal.

So, don’t expect to see any white flags waving outside PDDG headquarters. The Big Box battle is a long way from over and we will fight it to the end.

Full Speed Ahead

With questions circulating about PDDG’s status in light of Corrin’s “compromise” position on Lowe’s, I would like to offer assurance that I and everyone else at PDDG headquarters remains focused on defeating Newman’s big box plans through every legal means.

We had anticipated that Corrin’s candidacy would distract him from the crucial work of defeating Newman and would raise questions about his relationship to PDDG, and we told him so. However, he was not to be dissuaded. That’s okay. It will have to be.

PDDG is a big tent. I, for one, have been surprised at who I have seen in there. We demand no oaths. The closest thing we have to a motto is quoted above. (I think it was PDDG firebrand Jim Allen who declared in a previous public meeting that we would “use every legal means” to defeat Newman.)

Fortunately, the election will soon be over and PDDG will be able to return to its core mission of preventing the reckless retail sprawl the PDD law was passed to allow. There can be no compromise on this position, and not because PDDG is doctrinaire or radical. There can be no compromise because Newman’s project presents Geneseo with a rare development trifecta: the wrong proposal done in the wrong way at the wrong time. Strike three.

While we can debate the merits of retail as an economic development strategy, there is much about this proposal that is beyond debate: the secretive ties between the town and the developer; the documents pertaining to those ties that have gone missing; the incompatibility of Newman’s proposal and the zoning of its proposed location; the interference of elected officials with the deliberations and independence of the planning board; the elimination of the master plan committee as it completed its work on a new and overdue vision for the town. Under these circumstances, compromise is capitulation.

For these reasons and more, PDDG will continue to oppose Newman’s plans. After we have succeeded and after we have elected a new town board, we can look forward to working as a community to review and renew our planning and zoning. It is at that time, in the full light of day and away from the pressure created by an outside developer, that compromise and consensus will be needed.

Until then, PDDG will stay focused on the business at hand. At the moment, we are challenging the legality of the scheduled public hearing on Newman’s proposal and preparing what are sure to be extensive written comments on the many problems with the Draft Environmental Impact Statement submitted by Newman.

We appreciate your continued support and look forward to vigorously representing our shared concerns as review of Newman’s proposal continues.

Opportunity knocks and the town refuses to answer

After the Town Planning Board’s August 27 meeting, I had the chance to ask Newman Development’s attorney and “team” leader Ken Kamlet whether he would send me copies of the missing documents we have been trying so hard to obtain. His answer surprised me.

You may recall that nearly a year ago, I submitted a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for several dozen documents related to Newman’s Big Box proposal. Among those were approximately a dozen items of correspondence between Newman and its partners and the Town.

Though we know that the documents existed – they are referred to in the billing records of Underberg & Kessler, the Town’s attorneys – my request, subsequent appeals, and even a Article 78 lawsuit against the Town failed to produce their disclosure.

The problem, the Town said, is that it destroyed the documents, which it characterized as routine and trivial communications that it was allowed to destroy. Since it can’t produce what no longer exists, and since the Town’s claim that it was allowed to destroy the documents can’t be tested without knowing the contents of the documents, the matter reached an impasse. Our effort to break this impasse by asking the Court to order a more thorough search of Town records was rejected by Judge Anne Marie Taddeo.

That would seem to leave only one route to get the documents, which brings us back to August 27. As a private, non-governmental party, Newman is not subject to FOIL. It can’t be required to produce its communications with public officials; only public officials can be so required. However, it may very well still have those communications and it certainly may provide them voluntarily.

So I asked, first in writing and then in person, whether Newman would share its copies of the documents. Doing so would be an enormous act of goodwill on Newman’s part. It would answer questions about the Town’s relationship with Newman (remember that a sworn statement has been made that the Town acknowledged that Newman wrote the PDD law.) It would bring an end to costly and contentious litigation with the Town.

I received no response to my written request, so I didn’t expect much when I posed the question directly to Mr. Kamlet. That’s why I was surprised when he said that he would provide the documents to the Town if they requested them.

Hearing the sound of opportunity knocking, I immediately contacted the Town to encourage them to follow up on Newman’s offer. Weeks have passed. The Town Board has met. I have been told that they discussed the issue at their meeting, with Supervisor Kennison indicating that the matter is being reviewed by counsel. I have received no response from the Town.

At this point in the process, I won’t bother to feign outrage or indignation at the Town’s apparent indifference to this opportunity. I would have to be naïve to believe that the Town has any real interest in the public knowing more about its relationship to Newman.

Three things could happen if Newman did provide the documents; two of them are bad for the Town and the third is by now almost completely implausible. First, the documents could reveal close ties between Newman and the Town in writing the PDD law and reviewing Newman’s proposal.

Short of that, they could contain the type of information that, without presenting evidence of collusion, could prove that the Town’s attorneys destroyed significant documents in violation of state law. Or, perhaps we’ve got this all wrong and the documents contain the type of truly trivial information that would allow them to be destroyed, but if so, why not ask Newman to release them?

So there it is. Newman has the documents. The Town could ask for them. It hasn’t. Go figure.

Perhaps a future Town administration can follow up on Newman’s offer. Despite the Town’s full court press to expedite approval of Newman’s application (most recently by trying to gain acceptance of an obviously incomplete DEIS), it appears likely that Newman’s application will still be pending when the new board takes office on January 1.

Looking for Mr. Lamb

As you may have seen in recent issues of the Livingston County News, Greg Lamb, http://www.clarioncall.com’s most active reader in Florida (my Dad doesn’t use computers) and PDDG’s most dogged critic, has re-entered our local fray with another effort to discredit PDDG and advocate on behalf of Big Boxes.

In so doing, Mr. Lamb provided us the opportunity to reveal what we had recently learned: that he is not the disinterested observer he portrays himself to be. Through intrepid electronic detective work (and conversations in the coffeeshop), PDDG’s crackerjack security team (Corrin and I) were able to identify Mr. Lamb’s wife as part owner of the Frew property.

This unacknowledged financial stake means the Lambs  stand to gain as much as $1 million as their share of the reported $200,000 an acre that will be paid if Newman gains approval to build its Big Box on 25 acres of the family land.

Regular readers of this column may recall the mystery of the identity of Mr. Lamb. Last spring, he inserted himself into our local drama by publishing a letter to the editor in the SUNY-Geneseo college newspaper, The Lamron, in which he attacked my motives for opposing more Big Boxes in Geneseo and sought to discredit PDDG.

He also attacked Corrin, claiming that The Clarion had refused to publish earlier letters to the editor and forcing him to rely on The Lamron to air his concerns. Confronted to present evidence to support this bogus claim, Mr. Lamb instead issued a half-hearted retraction and apology.

After reading Mr. Lamb’s original letter to the editor, I assumed he was a student and I sought the opportunity to discuss our differing perspectives. However, I couldn’t find a Greg Lamb among Geneseo students, Geneseo residents, or anywhere else in the surrounding area. This was odd, I thought.

Why was someone who didn’t live in the area so interested in our Big Box battle? Why would someone who claimed to have local knowledge send his letter to the newspaper of my employer rather than the much more widely read Livingston County News? And why would he make demonstrably false and libelous claims about the editorial practices of The Clarion?

In the context of a recent mysterious phone call to PDDG colleague Kurt Cylke warning of an imminent lawsuit against him by Newman Development Group, I wondered how Mr. Lamb might be involved in our increasingly contentious battle. Using an email address provided by The Lamron, I contacted him and asked him to identify himself and his interest. He refused.

Unable to identify Mr. Lamb through simple electronic searches, I put the matter aside. However, Mr. Lamb kept getting in touch. Once The Clarion became http://www.clarioncall.com, Mr. Lamb posted regular comments in response to our columns.

Corrin and I resolved to look a little harder. Using an electronic fingerprint left by his computer, we identified a Greg Lamb in south Florida.  Internet searches revealed that he was married to Mary Bondell Lamb. Long-time residents will recognize the name Bondell. It only rang a bell for me, though that was enough.

A quick search found the Geneseo link: the property on which Newman had proposed its Big Box was owned by descendants of the Frew family, including the Munsons and the Bondells. Mary’s mother was Wildroff Frew Bondell, who lived on Elm St. and who passed away in the years since Newman came to town.

Corrin then deployed to the Bank Street coffeeshop, Geneseo’s own local Google. In no time at all, he had uncovered the entire Frew family tree.

So there you have it. Greg Lamb is married to an heir to the Frew property. Good for him, of course. He has every right to sell his property and see it developed. He also has every right to be heard in our local affairs. However, it is fundamental that people disclose their stakes, particularly their financial stakes, in any position they advocate.

We will continue to welcome Mr. Lamb as a reader and commenter on this site. We just thought it was fair that readers know the rest of the story.

Appealing the latest FOIL rejection

For my column this week, I am providing the full text of the latest FOIL appeal that I filed this week with the Town of Geneseo. I think the letter speaks for itself.
Mr. Weston Kennison
Records Access Appeals Officer
Town of Geneseo

Dear Mr. Kennison:

I am writing to appeal the Town’s recent denial of access to public records related to Newman Development Group’s Gateway Town Center proposal.

On July 11, 2007, I filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for all correspondence between Town Attorney James Coniglio and Town elected officials and representatives of Newman Development Group and its development partners. The impetus for this request was a statement by Mr. Coniglio in the Livingston County News (June 28, 2007) that the Town had received and rejected criticisms of the Planned Development District (PDD) law from Newman.

In response to this request, on August 10, 2007, the Town stated that no documents other than those provided to me by an earlier FOIL request could be found. However, my previous requests produced only a single item of correspondence (a March 22, 2005 letter from James Coniglio to Tom Ferrera of Ferrera/Jerum) between representatives of the Town and representatives of Newman prior to the passage of the PDD law in July 2005. That letter had nothing to do with the PDD law.

The absence of documents transmitted between the Town and Newman related to the PDD law creates a conundrum, particularly in the context of Mr. Coniglio’s claim that communications about the PDD law were transmitted between the Town and Newman. For Newman even to be aware of the PDD law would seem to require that the draft law – which was not yet in the public domain – was somehow transmitted to them, yet no record of such a transmission exists. For Newman to have offered its response to the law would also require some transmission. Even a phone conversation would produce notes or some other written record. Yet, no such records appear to exist.

Also, reviewing the billing records of Underberg & Kessler indicates that development of PDD regulations began in March 2005. Yet, these records indicate that there was no phone, written, or personal contact with Ken Kamlet or other employees of Newman prior to April 21, 2005. The “correspondence to and from K. Kamlet” indicated by the billing records to have occurred on that date identified in a previous FOIL request as missing, probably destroyed, and not required to have been retained because of its routine or trivial nature. No other contact with Mr. Kamlet is recorded until his appearance at the Town’s public hearing on the PDD law on June 9, 2005, at which time he indicated his familiarity with and support of the PDD law.

It is simply inconceivable to me that there is not a single item of correspondence between Newman and the Town related to the drafting or content of the PDD law. Further, it is clear under state law that any such correspondence, pertaining as it does to a matter of public policy, must be retained permanently. The result is a conclusion that the Town is either withholding records in violation of FOIL or has destroyed significant public records in violation of the Arts and Cultural Affairs Law (Article 57A, the Local Government Records Law).

Under these circumstances, I request that the Town ask Underberg & Kessler to undertake an additional search of its records for any documents relevant to my July 11 request. If no relevant documents are found, please provide certification of the completion of a diligent search and the details of that search. Further, please provide any clarification of the circumstances under which the PDD law was made available to Newman, the form in which Mr. Kamlet’s or Newman’s comments were received, and the disposition of those comments.

Also, my July 11 request included a request for the “contents of the ‘client files’ developed by Underberg & Kessler for the Town of Geneseo related to the Planned Development District law or Newman Development Group.” Your response denies my request for failure to “reasonably describe the nature of the records sought.” My use of the term “client files” was taken from Underberg & Kessler attorney Ron Hull’s claim, in the context of PDDG’s previous Article 78 litigation against the Town, that he had searched UK’s “client files” for records requested in a previous FOIL request. I do not know anything more about the nature or content of these client files, but I believe under the circumstances that the description I have provided should be clear to Underberg & Kessler.

Please provide your response to this appeal with ten business days.

Sincerely,

Bill Lofquist

Newman DEIS Incomplete

Note: This is the text of a column printed in the August 9 issue of the Livingston County News.

Last February, the Town of Geneseo Planning Board gave Newman Development Group a list of impacts it had to assess and reports it had to complete as part of the ongoing review of its proposal to build a big box Lowe’s in the Gateway District. The list covered the major concerns about this project that have been expressed by the board and the public:
What effects will it have on traffic on 20A and intersections connecting to it?
How much additional traffic will be diverted onto Lima Road and other residential streets?
What would the traffic look like if the Gateway were developed as intended by the existing zoning rather than with a big box?
would this huge building affect views of the Genesee Valley?
How much additional retail development is likely to follow?
What does more regional retail development mean for the Main Streets of Geneseo and other Livingston County towns and villages?

As this paper reported last week, Newman recently submitted its answers to these questions in the form of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). Having now had the opportunity to review this public report and to look beneath its claims that all will be well, I believe Newman’s report is incomplete in at least six important respects. As a result, I believe the report should be returned to Newman to be completed.

Only after Newman has fully answered the questions it has been asked can the Board and the public begin the important discussion of whether the impacts of this project are ones we can live with as we try to balance our interests in economic development, maintaining a functioning infrastructure, and protecting Geneseo’s small town character and quality of life.

As we are all well aware, the level of traffic congestion on 20A is already affecting the way in which people use (and don’t use) this route as they travel here to shop or as they try to move through Geneseo on their way to Rochester or points elsewhere. For example, it is my observation that people have largely abandoned the Center St. access point to 20A in favor of using the light at Main St. or avoiding the matter altogether by using Lima and Volunteer Roads.

As the highly mobilized residents of the Lima Road area make clear, they are understandably concerned that more mega-retail development on 20A will lead more people through their residential neighborhood.

However, in studying how increased traffic volumes will affect travel routes, Newman analyzed the wrong routes. For example, rather than considering how many people coming into Geneseo on Route 63 from York, Pavilion, and points beyond will use the Court St.-North St.-Lima Rd.-Volunteer Rd. “bypass,” they studied how many people entering Geneseo from Mt. Morris, Dansville, Warsaw and points south and west will divert to 63 and then to this bypass rather than staying on 20A.

Of course, no one would choose the alternative they’ve identified. They would be diverting far out of their way. Also, they have already accomplished the feat feared by so many in Geneseo: getting onto 20A. However, plenty of people use the northwest passage I’ve identified. Newman fails to give us any idea of how many more people will do so.

Likewise with people looking to get to 390 north. Those of us who live here know that a good many people have given up on using 20A to get to 390 North. Though longer as the crow flies, Lima Rd. now functions as an undesignated bypass. It is important to know how much additional traffic will take this route if another big box opens on 20A. However, Newman studied the wrong route again.

Probably my greatest concerns about this proposal are that it is so much at odds with the existing zoning for the Gateway (courtesy of the “flexibility” provided by the Planned Development District law) that it will lead to far more intensive development than planned for and that it will set a precedent for more retail sprawl to follow.

The former issue was to be studied by comparing the impacts of a “code compliant” development scenario with Newman’s plans. However, as far as I can determine, the alternative Newman studies, a six building, 168,000 square feet retail conglomeration, is not code compliant and is certainly not part of the vision of the Gateway of the authors of the existing zoning.

The latter issue was to be studied by examining how retail development leads to follow-on retail development. This issue here would seem to be clear enough. As our own experience makes abundantly clear, chain retail likes to cluster together to draw and share traffic. It is our Wal-Mart that makes Newman’s proposal possible. What additional retail – Target, Kohl’s, Sam’s, Barnes & Noble – would Lowe’s make possible? Unfortunately, Newman does nothing to study this issue, acknowledging only that the issue exists.

For these reasons and others, many of the most important questions that the Planning Board asked back in February remain unanswered. In a matter as important as this, it is important that we get the answers before we proceed to the next stage of review.

(To read the full text of the comments I submitted to the Town Planning Board on behalf of Please Don’t Destroy Geneseo, please read “Analysis of DEIS” on The PDDG File.