What was supposed to be a public hearing on the village’s proposed master plan last night turned into an evening of not-so-veiled threats by attorneys representing the interests of two large commercial developers.
Attorney Robert Koegel, representing the Aprile family and Premium Development, and Attorney J. Michael Jones, representing National Realty, the owners of the former Ames Plaza, took turns castigating the proposal to change the existing C-2 commercial district into a new M-U mixed use district.
Although the master plan does not include a specific size limitation, it does carry language suggesting that a size limit of “mid-range” be imposed on future commercial buildings in the M-U district in subsequent zoning. The current C-2 district has no size limit on commercial buildings, something that the developers claim must be continued for them to be successful in attracting investment.
The attorneys made it clear that their clients intend to vigorously protect their property interests. It is not so clear, however, that they have any legal basis to resist the plan other than possible technical complaints about the procedure used to produce it.
As Geneseo resident Jim Allen pointed out, all citizens have property rights, and small residential property owners have a right to see that their property is not degraded by large-scale commercial development that may change the character of the community.
Allen also pointed out that the United States Supreme Court has held that zoning may reduce the value of a person’s property as long as it does not take away all possible uses. A 1992 federal court decision in the eastern district of New York (Elias v. Town of Brookhaven, 783 F.Supp. 758) summarized the state of the law:
“The question is whether a landowner has, as a matter of law, an assurance that the zoning regulations will never change. The question almost answers itself. Nothing in the town’s zoning laws or in any New York State law suggests that such an assurance has been made either explicitly or implicitly. If there is one thing that the history of zoning regulation has established it is that as time passes and population increases (or diminishes) zoning restrictions change.”
The developers attempted to attack the public opinion survey on which the plan is based as being inadequate and accused the village of ignoring the wishes of SUNY Geneseo students. They pointed to a different survey that they claimed showed that students wanted large-scale commercial development.
Former Master Plan Committee Chairperson Patti Lavigne said, however, that her committee’s 2005 survey was based on a random sample of registered voters in which a large number of students were included after college voter registration drives for the 2004 presidential election. That mailed survey had a 44 per cent return rate, although it is not clear what per cent of students responded.
Student voting participation in local elections is historically low, with only a large turn-out for the 2004 national election. The board seems to be representing the views of the majority of their voting constituents and those in attendance last night, who favor limitations on large-scale commercial development, and it is expected they will pass the plan in the near future.