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.”