Category Archives: Big Boxes

Findings consideration put off until May 12

A special meeting of the Geneseo Town Planning Board scheduled for April 28 to consider the Findings under SEQR on the Newman Development PDD application has been canceled. The matter will be taken up at the next regular meeting of the Planning board on Monday May 12.

The delay was caused by the failure of the town to complete the final version of the FEIS until this week. Under SEQR regulations, a 10-day period for public and other agency consideration must be allowed before Findings can be adopted.

When the FEIS was neither officially noticed or provided last week PDDG wrote to the board requesting that any consideration of the findings be delayed until after the 10-day period. Although PDDG did not receive any official answer to its request it was finally learned that the April 28 meeting had been canceled.

Copies of the FEIS are available for public inspection at the Wadsworth Library and the Geneseo Municipal Building at 119 Main Street. Comments on the FEIS may be sent to the planning Board, however, the board is not required to respond to any comments.

The board must now decide if based on the FEIS the project can go forward without causing significant environmental damage. The board can either kill the project, approve it unconditionally, or add conditions for additional mitigation to any approval. The board has 30 days from the filing of the FEIS on April 21 to adopt its findings.

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Planning Board approves FEIS by 5-2 vote

After two hours of discussion, the Town of Geneseo Planning Board approved the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the Geneseo Town Centre proposal by a 5-2 vote at a special meeting last night before a standing-room-only crowd of about 50 citizens. Board members Patti Lavigne and Marge Wilkie voted against the motion, mainly because they claimed that they had not had enough time to properly review the over 200-page document that was prepared by the town’s engineering and legal staff and delivered to the board last week.

The approval was subject to a number of amendments and additions that were discussed at the meeting and will be made to the document before it is made official. Approval of the FEIS does not equate with approval of the project or even approval of the mitigation measures proposed by the developer. It merely means that the board believes that the potential impacts have been studied sufficiently to make a final decision.

The board will have 30 days from the time that the Notice of Completion of the FEIS is filed to adopt a Statement of Findings. That statement can be either “positive or negative” according to board counsel Joe Picciotti. A positive finding would mean that the project can go forward but it could have conditions attached requiring mitigation of certain environmental impacts.

For instance, the board could make a positive finding but could require that the building have a certain orientation, or limit the number of entrances to the property. In the alternative, the board could make a negative finding that the project can not go forward because no amount of mitigation could prevent the environmental impacts. Such a vote would end the project

The board set another special meeting on April 28 to work on the findings statement. In the meantime, the public and other interested agencies are given a 10-day “consideration period” after the FEIS is filed. This period runs concurrently with the 30-day period allowed to the board to adopt its findings.

The “consideration period” is not necessarily a period for public comment. The public and interested agencies may submit comments to the board on the FEIS, but the board is not required to consider them or respond to them in any way.

This is not the same as the public comment period requested by PDDG. They argued in a memo to the board that a Supplemental EIS (SEIS) should be prepared in the matter because of all the additional material that has been added to the EIS since the Draft EIS was submitted and a public hearing was held last fall. A SEIS would require an additional public comment period, although not necessarily another public hearing.

One area of controversy continues to be access of the project to Rt. 20A at Morganview Road. Board member Marge Wilkie suggested that she could accept a “right-turn only” entrance at the location, but said that allowing cars to turn left on exiting the project at that location would be too dangerous. New board member Hank Latorella indicated that he could not see any reason to allow an entrance at the location at all.

After questioning the town’s traffic engineer, Bill Holtoff, it was pointed out that the “right-turn only” entrance had not been studied for the FEIS because it had not been brought up in previous comments. It appeared therefore that it was too late for the idea to be included as a mitigation measure in the Findings Statement. The board could, however, vote to deny any entrance at Morganview since the effect of that was studied in the FEIS.

Latorella also indicated that he was concerned about the impact of increased traffic on Rt. 20A at the intersection of Center Street. He suggested that a follow-up traffic study could be made after the Lowe’s opens to see if a traffic signal was required at that intersection. He said that if the signal was then found to be necessary that the developer should be made to pay for it. Holtoff said that enough data was in the FEIS on that subject to allow that to be included as a possible mitigation.

The board also discussed the safety of the intersection of Volunteer and Lima roads. Marge Wilkie pointed out that there was a serious accident there just last week. She stated that one problem was that cars approaching the intersection on Lima Road from the north had a 55 mph speed limit. They were confronted with cars either entering the intersection from Volunteer Road or in their lane of traffic waiting to turn left onto Volunteer Road. Chairman Folts suggested that this problem could be solved by the placement of a warning sign of “intersection ahead” on Lima Road.

Patti Lavigne requested that language be added to clarify the document on a number of issues. She objected to any claim that tax revenue from the project would actually result in lower taxes, pointing out that such a outcome was beyond the planning board’s control and might never happen. The board agreed to adjust the language with Folts suggesting that it might at least “lessen the increase in taxes.”

Lavigne also said that the document did not accurately represent the intent of the underlying zoning of the Gateway. She said that her research indicated that the 1992 Master Plan and the new zoning adopted in 1996 had the express intent of preventing the kind of large-scale commercial development that had occurred across the street at the Wegmans/Wal-Mart plaza.

Board member Tom Curtin suggested that the underlying zoning did not matter since the proposal was before the board as a PDD application. Attorney Picciotti cautioned, however, that the underlying zoning was a relevant consideration and MRB representative Mike Guyon agreed to make some changes in the language.

Finally, Lavigne stated that she had had “limited time to look at the FEIS in depth.” She indicated that she had to work three 12-hour shifts in a row last week and had not had time to review the whole document. Despite that, however the board voted to move ahead with the process rather than allow further time to review. A spokesman for PDDG was critical of this decision.

“It’s hard to understand what the great hurry is, ” said PDDG’s Bill Lofquist. “The board has a legal obligation to take a “hard look” at this matter and make an independent judgment, not just accept the work of its consultants without proper review.”

Planning board takes up FEIS tonight

After over two months of delay, the Geneseo Town Planning Board will take up the proposed Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Geneseo Town Centre proposal tonight at a special meeting. The town’s engineering and legal consultants have been preparing a response to the draft FEIS since it was submitted by Newman Development in early February.

The review process has been shrouded in secrecy and Please Don’t Destroy Geneseo (PDDG) has had limited success in getting copies of communications between the town’s agents and the developers. FOIL requests have revealed that a number of new studies and analysis have been produced by Newman in recent weeks. The new material includes key areas of controversy including traffic on Lima Road and Rt. 20A, the need for access on Rt. 20A, and the orientation of the proposed building.

PDDG has asked that a public comment period be provided to respond to this supplemental material. So far, however, that request has not been responded to by the board or its attorneys, despite PDDG’s claim that an additional comment period is required under SEQR regulations. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the new Town Hall on Millennium Drive.

Neuman pulls out of Geneseo project

In an announcement that stunned local officials, after a four-year battle, Neuman Development announced Tuesday that they are canceling their Geneseo Town Centre proposal that was to include a Big Box Lowe’s. The news came in a letter dated April 1st to Geneseo Town Planning Board Chairman Dwight D. Faults.

In the letter, Neuman said they made this “difficult decision” after an independent review of the proceedings indicated that the project was so legally compromised by improper procedures that the best plan would be to simply start over. Neuman Development President Alfred E. Neuman also announced that they have fired their in-house counsel and point person for the project Ken Kamelot.

“This should have been a slam dunk,” Neuman said in an exclusive Blarion interview. “We can’t believe this guy could lose to a bunch of pointed-headed college professors and a blogger. Ken could screw up a boxed lunch!”

Faults said he was devastated by the news and immediately announced his retirement from the Planning Board. “Without the Neuman deal to push through there’s really no point in me continuing to serve,” Faults said.

Town Supervisor Will Willingsworth announced he would re-appoint former Chairman John Zmysche to take over leadership of the Planning Board.”There was really no good reason to fire John in the first` place,” Willingsworth said, “but Mike Toenailio made me do it.”

The news was greeted with glee by members of PDDG (Please Do Depress Geneseo) who saw it as a major victory in their battle to take Geneseo back to the 19th century. “This is only the beginning of our struggle,” said PDDG Honcho Borin’ Strong, who announced the group’s plans to back legislation both in the town and village to have all commercial buildings over 25,000 square feet immediately torn down. “We won’t rest until all the Big Boxes are driven from the gates,” he vowed.

Other PDDG leaders were not yet convinced that the deal is really dead. PDDG’s Bill Lunkhead said he planned to FOIL all correspondence between all members of the town government and all developers for the past 50 years to try to get to the bottom of the matter. “I know their hiding something,” Prof. Lunkhead said.

That effort was immediately short-circuited, however, when Town Clerk Saint Jean the Benevolent quickly announced that all the requested records had apparently been misplaced during last year’s move to the new town hall. Lunkhead received some consolation, however, when Town Historian David Pariah reported that he had discovered what appeared to be the missing records from town attorneys Underwater and Quisling hidden in the former town hall basement.

Former Town Supervisor Less Kennison blamed himself for the outcome. “If only I had been a little more forceful in pushing this proposal through we might have made it,” he said from Albany where he is working on his next campaign to be Lt. Governor. “I guess this proves that nice guys really do finish last!”

The disappointment was shared at the county level where County Administrator Nick Mazzaroski announced an immediate rollback of all county employee salary increases for the past three years. “We had been counting on the sales tax boost from that project to save our bacon,” Mazzaroski said. “It seems only fair, now that the project has failed, that the staff and not the taxpayers should take the brunt of the damage.”

Representatives of the Shrew family, owners of the involved land, were philosophical about the setback. “We’ve got Geneseo by the balls so we’re really not worried,” said Shrew outlaw Greg Sheep. “Sooner or later somebody else will be back with another Big Box proposal.” Sheep did say, however, that he will miss reading the Blarion Blogs on a daily basis. “That Borin’ is one funny guy,” he concluded.

A few rays of sunlight

Last week, after a strong critique of the Town of Geneseo’s compliance with the Freedom of Information law was published in the local newspaper, there were signs that the information ice jam is beginning to break-up. The first sign was a meeting called by Supervisor Will Wadsworth with PDDG members (and authors) Bill Lofquist and Corrin Strong on Friday afternoon.

This was preceded by a phone call from Town Clerk and Records Access Officer Jean Bennett reporting that PDDG’s two FOILs (filed on Feb. 19 and March 3) had finally brought some results. A copy of an e-mail was released indicating that the memo from the town’s engineers to Newman Development on the FEIS that had been sought was apparently never delivered.

Instead, it appears that the town’s engineers held a meeting with the Newman team on Feb. 15 to convey their positions on defects in the FEIS verbally. As a result, PDDG filed an additional FOIL request on Monday seeking more information on that meeting including any position papers prepared by the town’s engineers for the meeting and any handwritten notes taken at the meeting, which they believe are covered by FOIL.

That FOIL was one of four new requests made Monday. In addition, PDDG filed a request for any more recent communications between the town and the applicant since the March 3 FOIL. In a abrupt change from past practice, this FOIL was responded to on the same day with the production of 12 new documents.

The new material represents updated studies on traffic patterns on Lima Road and Rt. 20A as well as consideration of the effect of eliminating access to the project from 20A. Bill Lofquist posted an analysis of some of the new material on Saturday. In addition, some of the new “supplements to the supplements” have been posted on the PDDG site.

They did, however, renew their call for an additional public comment period on the supplemental material. “It is clear that a large amount of new information has been submitted since the public hearing on the Draft EIS was held back in October,” Bill Lofquist said. “Under SEQR regulations, the public should have the right to comment on this new data.”

Corrin Strong said he was grateful for the efforts of the Supervisor and the Town Clerk to bring the town into compliance with FOIL, but he questioned the wisdom of having the town’s agents making policy decisions without a written record.

“It seems that the only logical reason not to put the town’s position in writing would be to avoid FOIL disclosure,” Strong said. “That could put the town in an awkward position if there is a later misunderstanding about what was agreed to at the meeting, plus it diminishes board oversight of the process.”

The other two new FOILs seek copies of communications between Planning Board Chairman Dwight Folts and the board’s attorneys with the applicant. Nothing from these FOILs was received in the first 12 documents.

Planning Board ducks Newman issues

The Town of Geneseo Planning Board steered clear of the controversial Newman PDD application at its monthly meeting Monday night. The subject was not mentioned despite a written request by Please Don’t Destroy Geneseo to have two aspects of the matter placed on the agenda.

PDDG had asked the board to discuss their request to have the FOIL procedures simplified so that public documents in the case could be made available automatically. They also asked that the board consider opening up an additional public comment period on supplemental material that the applicant has submitted since filling its draft EIS last fall.

Instead of taking up these matters, the board engaged in a lengthy discussion of the future of Lakeville Estates. The board’s legal counsel and engineering advisers were not present at the meeting, nor were any representatives of Newman.

The only mention of the Newman matter was an indication from Chairman Dwight Folts that the matter would next be taken up at a special April 7 meeting of the board. Meanwhile PDDG reported that they have received no response of any kind to their two requests, and as of Wednesday, that they still had not received a copy of a memo from the town’s engineers to the developer that they FOILed almost a month ago.

PDDG’s Corrin Strong and Bill Lofquist published a commentary on the FOIL issue in this week’s Livingston County News. The article, in commemoration of National Sunshine Week, was titled, “More sunshine needed in Geneseo.”

In the article, the two explained the struggle that has been going on behind the scenes over their Freedom of Information requests. The authors accused the Planning Board leadership of embracing a “culture of secrecy” and further suggested that it was improper for the board to delegate to its staff its responsibility to take a “hard look” at the issues.

Pointing out that the board itself has apparently not been getting copies of communications between its engineers and the applicant, the article concludes,
“In the present case, it appears that not only do we not have public oversight of what our planning board is doing, we don’t even have board oversight.”

PDDG calls for discussion of FOIL, process issues

Please Don’t Destroy Geneseo has written a letter to the Geneseo Town Planning Board asking that discussion of two requests be put on the agenda for next Monday night’s meeting. The requests concern expediting the release of public documents under FOIL and opening a public comment period on new material submitted by Newman Development with its proposed Final EIS.

Repeated requests to the board to automatically release all public documents in the Newman matter have been made by PDDG in recent months with no apparent effect.

Most recently, PDDG has been attempting for over two weeks to get a copy of a memo from the Town’s engineers to Newman detailing deficiencies in the FEIS. At the February 11 meeting, Mike Guyon of MRB, the town’s engineering consultants, told the board that the memo would be ready by Feb. 15. A FOIL request filed on Feb.19 for the document (renewed on March 3) has thus far failed to dislodge it or an explanation of why it is not available.

PDDG has also received no formal answer to its request made on Feb. 10 to open a period of public comment on new material included in the draft FEIS submitted by Newman. PDDG contends that such a public comment period is required under SEQR regulations for all supplemental material.

PDDG has requested that both these items be put on the agenda Monday so that the public can hear the reasons why these requests are apparently being either ignored or rejected. In addition, the letter points up some additional problems with the FEIS as submitted.

The Planning Board meetings starts at7 p.m. at the new town hall on Millennium Drive.