Lesson #1

As PDDG’s point people, Corrin and I try to keep our readers informed about the status of Newman Development’s PDD application and what we’re doing to try to defeat this proposal. Because we’re having more than the usual amount of difficulty in figuring out what’s going on at the moment, this report may be a bit sketchy.

Back in September, with an election looming and under pressure by the pro-Lowe’s incumbents to produce some good news, the Town Planning Board declared Newman’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) complete. This allowed the former Supervisor to claim that a huge hurdle had been cleared and that State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) review of Newman’s proposal was done.

Turns out the Supervisor was wrong, on both counts. Not only is a completeness decision not a significant milestone in reviewing a proposal, the decision itself was premature. Missing from the DEIS Newman submitted were a number of studies required by the “scope” (guidelines) the Planning Board had provided to Newman.

Lesson #1: Newman’s unwillingness to complete these studies, combined with the Planning Board’s reluctance to recognize just how committed Newman is to avoiding accountability and disclosure about the impacts of its proposal, are the principle sources of delay in this long saga.

Without directly acknowledging that its completeness decision was premature, the Town Planning Board later required Newman to complete a number of additional studies (required by the scope) and produce additional information to support its proposal. Newman submitted these supplementary materials in early February.

Since then, developments have been hard to follow.

After reviewing Newman’s supplementary materials, the Town apparently decided they were still incomplete and otherwise inadequate (see Lesson #1). Rather than communicating these concerns in writing – as appears to be required by SEQRA, and as would seem to be prudent practice in a process this contentious – Town representatives apparently met with representatives of Newman to discuss these issues on Feb. 15.

Our efforts to obtain any records of this meeting, which should be public under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), have so far been unsuccessful. However, last week, we were able to get copies of new submissions of additional information by Newman that apparently resulted from that meeting, essentially supplementary supplementary information.

Among the highlights of the new materials is a report emphasizing the importance of direct road access from 20A to the proposed Lowe’s. (The report, a 6.2 Mb. pdf file, is available here.) You may recall that this has become a significant point of contention because the planning and zoning for the Gateway clearly prohibits such a road.

Remarkable about this report is the way in which Newman professes great concern about traffic on 20A in front of their proposed store, a concern not apparent in their “no limits to growth” approach to traffic elsewhere on 20A and Lima Rd. The “solution” to these traffic problems, it turns out, is direct access to 20A. (We have also posted their latest supplementary reports on Lima Road and 20A capacity.)

To my admittedly jaundiced eye, the real reason for this concern is found hidden right in the middle of the report, when they write that the 20A access they so badly want “has also been designed to connect to adjacent parcels that may be developed in the future.”

Isn’t that a happy coincidence? Newman is using its newfound concern about traffic to justify its effort to open up more 20A road frontage to retail sprawl. Make no mistake about it; a proposal for more retail development to the east would follow Lowe’s the way night follows day and cars follow retail.

Even after its most recent submissions, there appears to be significant omissions from the record created by Newman (see Lesson #1, again). Most notably, the scope requires a precedent analysis, examining the potential effects of a Lowe’s on subsequent retail development and traffic in the Gateway. No such study has been produced. At some point, it will have to be done.

We’re waiting.


Goldilocks and the Two Bears

There are at least 92 Wal-Mart’s and 51 Lowe’s in New York State. Yet, as far as I have been able to determine, there are only three communities similar in size and circumstances to Geneseo which host both of these Big Boxes.

Many places host both a Wal-Mart and a Lowe’s, often across the street from one another. They go together, the latter following the former as part of the sprawling homogenization of the American landscape. However, most of these places are large suburbs, such as Henrietta, Greece, Victor, or Amherst, or medium-sized cities, from Ithaca to Canandaigua to Elmira, Binghamton, and Schenectady.

The three New York communities most comparable to Geneseo – Norwich, Oneida, and Oneonta – represent the best opportunity to look into our future and see what a Lowe’s in Geneseo might mean for future retail development. What happens to a small town when a Wal-Mart is joined by a Lowe’s?

Does this combination satisfy the market, creating just the right amount of retail development (the Goldilocks scenario) or does the opening of the Big Box home improvement retailer near a Wal-Mart contribute to a new wave of chain stores that gobble up open space and small business (the two bears)?

Armed with Google Maps, Wikipedia, and other handy search tools, I have set out to answer these questions.

My criteria for communities comparable to Geneseo is that they be located in a primarily rural county, that they be more than 20 miles away from any city or any community that might be described as a suburb of a larger city, that they be the “market center” of their county, and that the county be comparable in size to ours.

By these criteria, communities somewhat similar to ours (and communities from which we can still learn something), such as Glen Falls, Ogdensburg, Oswego, Canandaigua, and Auburn did not make the cut, mostly because their home counties have multiple market towns or are far larger than Livingston County.

Norwich, a city of 7,500 and a town of an additional 4,000, is the county seat of Chenango County. There are no other large town or villages in the county, which has 52,000 residents, and no other communities that host a big box. The nearest city is Binghamton, 40 miles to the southwest.

Despite its small size, Norwich hosts an array of chain retailers comparable to Geneseo’s, including Super Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Sears, Peebles, Tractor Supply, Fashion Bug, Sherwin Williams, Eckerd, and Rite Aid, as well as a full complement of chain fast food and auto parts stores. Its Lowe’s, a smaller 122,000 square foot (compared to the 170,000 store proposed here), opened in fall, 2006.

According to a local official with whom I spoke, the opening of the Super Wal-Mart forced the closing of grocery stores in two neighboring towns. The opening of Lowe’s was followed by the closing of a long-time hardware store, a local institution in Norwich.

A local lumber yard is hanging in there, though business is down and its closing “would not come as a surprise.” On top of all this, rumors are flying that Target is interested in the large parcel adjacent to Lowe’s. New, smaller chain businesses have already opened.

Oneida, which was discussed last year, is a city of 11,000 in Madison County, which has a population of 69,000. Though Wampsville is the county seat, Oneida is the undisputed market center and home to the only Big Boxes in the county. It is a former manufacturing center, whose principal industries now are gambling and retail.

The Turning Stone Casino is located north of the mostly hollow town center, just off the Thruway, while retail sprawls to the west. The Five Corners area hosts Super Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Sears, Tractor Supply, and numerous smaller chains. Big Lots, Dollar Tree, Fashion Bug, and Rite Aid are also found in Oneida. Their Lowe’s, which opened just over a year ago, is 147,000 square feet, including the garden center.

Though it is too soon to know the full effect Lowe’s will have on subsequent retail development in Oneida, an article in this Tuesday’s Syracuse Post-Standard provides an early clue. The developer of the Lowe’s is now proposing a five-store retail plaza right next to it, to host national chain stores.

Oneonta is a city of 13,000 and a town of 5,000 in Otsego County, which has a population of 62,000. It is home to a SUNY campus, Hartwick College, and all of the county’s big boxes. It is located halfway between Binghamton and Schenectady, the largest cities in the area. There are no other large communities in the county, whose seat is Cooperstown.

For a community of its size and circumstances, Oneonta is host to a truly staggering range of chain retailers, including Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Kmart (now closed), Steve & Barry’s (an 82,000 square foot chain clothing store that replaced Kmart), JC Penney, Sears, Tractor Supply, Bath & Body Works, Bed Bath & Beyond, Foot Locker, Office Max, Fashion Bug, Radio Shack, FYE, GNC, Borders, Waldenbooks, Sherwin Williams, Rite Aid, and Eckerd. More chains are on the way in this very active retail market.

What do we learn from this exercise? Most importantly, that there are few New York communities like Geneseo with a Wal-Mart and a Lowe’s. We also learn that Lowe’s sets a precedent that attracts more chain retail development to host communities, even in small towns and small counties.

Just as Lowe’s follows Wal-Mart, the communities whose Lowe’s have been opened the longest host the most retail sprawl and experience a second wave of retail development. That the Lowe’s proposed for Geneseo is significantly larger than in comparable communities suggests a stronger possible pull for follow-on retailers.

I should also point out that median family income in Livingston County is $50,513, considerably higher than in Chenango County ($39,711), Madison County ($47,889), or Otsego County ($41,110).

Considered in conjunction with the prominent presence of chain retailers in Geneseo and the availability of land in the Gateway, approving Newman’s PDD application promises plenty of sprawl in our future.

A final note: I think that understanding the precedent that would be set by the opening of a Lowe’s is the most important issue Geneseo faces in deciding whether or not to approve Lowe’s. It is that precedent that will determine how much additional traffic and sprawl we will face.

I invite readers to scrutinize the communities I have identified as comparable and the conclusions I have drawn from those communities and to suggest alternative communities and conclusions. Feel free to post a comment or send me an e-mail.

Phase One?

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:


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.

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!

Throwing Down the Gauntlet

I don’t envy the members of the Town Planning Board, positioned as they are between a developer determined to build a Big Box whatever the obstacles, a Town Board that long ago determined to let them, and an opposition committed to using every legal means to stop them. From this uncomfortable spot, the Planning Board must try to enforce the requirements of a series of complex and sometimes conflicting laws while trying to discern what Geneseo might look like if Lowe’s is allowed to open its doors.

The latest exhibit of Newman Development Group’s audacity is its recently submitted proposed Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). The FEIS is intended to represent the culmination of the long and painstaking process of identifying the environmental impacts of a proposed project. As described in the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), the FEIS should provide a concise, objective, dispassionate enumeration of the impacts of a project and straightforward responses to questions and comments about the project that have been raised along the way.

To the surprise of no one who has been watching this project, Newman instead submitted a rambling, argumentative, still incomplete, often unclear, whiney, and self-congratulatory declaration of the many benefits, no costs, and unfair burdens faced by its proposal. The inevitable result is that a lot of work will have to be done by the board to turn this mess into a legally-defensible FEIS, a state of affairs sure to provoke renewed cries of obstruction and delay from the build yesterday (and regret tomorrow) crowd.

Focused as I am on the inconsistencies between this proposal and fifteen years of planning and zoning for the Gateway District, Newman’s efforts to reconcile its proposal to that planning and zoning make particularly bizzare reading. Perhaps most remarkable is Newman’s refusal to submit any plans for a store that does not face or take access from 20A, despite specific requirements by the Planning Board and the SEQR law that it do so.

The explanation that it offers for why its project should not have to meet these requirements – basically arguing that the zoning doesn’t say what it clearly says and that the authors of that zoning didn’t mean what they clearly meant – is the very definition of chutzpah. Besides, Newman threatens, if you force them to follow the zoning by facing their store toward Volunteer Road and denying them a curb cut on 20A, their business is more likely to fail and less likely to be reoccupied, leaving us with a dark store.

You can’t make this stuff up. (But if you don’t believe me, some of their more absurd addendums are now posted on the PDDG web site.) By the way, if you ever had any doubt that Newman is counting on future retail sprawl to the east on 20A, ask yourself why they are so insistent of facing and having access to 20A.

Those most interested in traffic will find plenty of headscratchers. After having refused to complete the alternative route studies, which are intended to determine how much more traffic can be expected on residential roads due to difficulties in gaining access to 20A, Newman finally provides an answer. That answer is good news: no more traffic will result.

The reason is not such good news: everybody who could avoid 20A by driving past your house already is. That leaves us with only the new visitors and new trips to worry about, and there the news is all bad. Lima Road traffic is expected to increase 20% by the time Lowe’s opens.

In other traffic news, Newman has simply refused to study what would happen to traffic if they did not have an access road on 20A at Morganview Drive. The planning and zoning for the Gateway, which never contemplated traffic-intensive Big Box retail, provides one access point to the Gateway, at Volunteer Road. This is sufficient for the types of development planned for this area. Recognizing that forcing a Big Box into that zoning would create gridlock, Newman has apparently decided that our zoning, not their plans, must be sacrificed.

One last traffic item: Newman has calculated that 50% more traffic is possible on 20A before its capacity is exceeded and road widening is required. Even accepting this figure – and I don’t – the 5-7% annual rate of growth in 20A traffic that has occurred over the past twenty years will exceed that capacity in as little as six years, not the date of 2025 provided by Newman. More importantly, it seems to defy logic that a road that is so congested that Geneseo residents no longer use it can accommodate 50% more traffic before anything needs to be done about it.

Finally, those wondering what other big and small box chains might follow Newman into the Gateway are out of luck. Despite having been required in the Scope and in a follow up to it to analyze the precedent for future development that would be set by this project, Newman steadfastly refuses to do so. The best they could muster was a quick drive-by of Canandaigua, which led them to conclude that there is no sprawl happening there.

The project lumbers onward, straining and staggering under the increasing weight of its inconsistencies. It’s hard to watch, but those who care about Geneseo must.

A race to the statute books?

[This is the last in my 4-part series of articles examining the history of the Gateway District and the implications of that history for our current Big Box battle.]

If the Geneseo Town Planning Board and Geneseo Town Board approve Newman Development Group’s Big Box plans, the 25 acre parcel at the northeast corner of 20A and Volunteer Road will be rezoned as a Planned Development District.

At that point, the legal question as to whether that rezoning is permissible will become ripe. The central issue to be considered in evaluating the appropriateness of that rezoning, or of any rezoning, is whether it was done in accordance with the planning of a particular community. That “planning,” the courts have ruled, includes not only the Comprehensive Master Plan of a community, if it has one, but also all other planning and zoning deliberations and documents that have been produced.

The legal logic here is strong: zoning cannot be changed to suit the whim or the latest scheme of policymakers, landowners, or developers. Rather, any changes must be in furtherance of a community’s vision. Zoning, therefore, can change only when that vision changes.

In the landmark 1968 case of Udell v. Haas, the New York Court of Appeals coined a phrase to describe rezoning done wrong. Municipalities, it ruled, cannot “race to the statute books” to change their zoning when a particular opportunity presents itself.

At issue in that case was a decision of the Village of Lake Success Board of Trustees to change a particular zoning district from business to residential A recommendation for such a change was made on the same day that a developer submitted an application for a commercial development the Board viewed as undesirable. The zoning change was enacted a month or so later.

In ruling against the zoning change, the Court stated that it “was not the result of a deliberate change in community policy, but was enacted without sufficient forethought or planning, and was not supported by any particular conditions existing in the area. This race to the statute books was not in accord with sound zoning principles….”

The parallels between Lake Success and Geneseo are close, though not perfect. The first public discussion of a PDD law occurred at the Town Board meeting of March 24, 2005, the same meeting at which Newman’s Big Box plans were unveiled. The PDD law was enacted less than four months later, over public opposition and the opposition of the Town Planning Board. Newman’s proposal could not have been considered without the PDD law.

Though the Town might argue that the surrounding land uses support Big Boxes in the Gateway, earlier articles in this series have clearly demonstrated that it was precisely those surrounding uses that the Town sought to avoid in the Gateway. The planning and zoning for the Gateway are explicit in their opposition to Big Boxes, their concern about traffic, sprawl, and 20A frontage development, and their view of the Gateway as a transitional zone between the intensive retail of the Village and the rural character of the Town.

No previous or subsequent laws, policies, or official pronouncements of the Board have withdrawn the stated concerns about traffic or the express opposition to Big Boxes in the Gateway. No evidence has been collected or presented to suggest those concerns are invalid or that Big Boxes are somehow now needed. Even the passage of the PDD law, the occasion for making statements about a new vision for the Gateway, was accompanied by little more than platitudes about flexibility.

Whether or not the Town laid the necessary foundation for enacting PDD zoning and, should it happen, rezoning the Gateway, cannot be said with certainty at this point.

However, insert “PDD law” for “ordinance No. 60” and what the Court wrote about Lake Success bears a close resemblance to Geneseo’s recent history: “This history of ordinance No. 60 must immediately raise doubts whether this race to the statute books was in accord with sound zoning principles or was a subversion of them for the process by which a zoning revision is carried out is important in determining the validity of a particular action taken.”