Category Archives: SEQR

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.

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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.

Lawyer sees shadow, predicts 6 more weeks of FEIS study

Ground Hog Day came a little late for the Geneseo Planning Board yesterday, when attorney Joe Picciotti extended his estimate of the time needed to respond to Newman Development’s recent draft FEIS submission to “5 to 6 weeks.” Picciotti had previously told the board it would take “at least a month after submittal.” The draft FEIS was received last week.

This report seemed to annoy Planning Board Chairman Dwight Folts who tried to push for a faster review. “I was hoping we could have this done in three weeks,” Folts said, suggesting that it could be reviewed at the next Planning Board meeting on March 11. Picciotti told him there was “no way” that he and the town’s engineers could move that quickly. “There’s just a lot of work here,” Picciotti said.

A number of Planning Board members seemed surprised by the Chairman’s position. “What’s your hurry?” asked Marge Wilkie. Folts responded that the matter had dragged on for 2 1/2 years already and he wanted to bring it to a conclusion as soon as possible. Board member Tom Curtin cautioned, however, that “we are at the most critical phase and it’s important to get it right.”

Folts then suggested a meeting could be scheduled on March 31, with a deadline of March 24 for the town’s advisors to submit their proposed response. Picciotti made no commitment that he could meet that timetable.

Picciotti also said that preliminary review of the document had already revealed that there were areas of incompleteness and that more information would probably be required from the developers. Emphasizing that the preliminary review was still incomplete, Picciotti mentioned two specific problems with the draft.

He stated that the new information submitted about Rt. 20A traffic capacity appeared to be inadequate. (The appendix submitted on that subject is available as a pdf file here ). Picciotti further pointed out that the draft FEIS did not seem to include a required site plan that eliminates access from 20A. (A new memo from the developer on why the curb cut is necessary is available here.)

The legal position of this latter issue was clarified when Picciotti explained that the ultimate decision as to whether to allow a curb cut on 20A would be made by the Town Board. He stated that the Planning Board’s responsibility was merely to consider the environmental impact of having or not having such an entrance.

Picciotti said that the town’s staff would complete its preliminary review of the document by this Friday and produce a written response to Newman indicating exactly what they find to be missing in the recent submittal. Although cautioned by their attorney not to get into detailed discussion of the draft FEIS, board members did discuss some concerns about the document.

Patti Lavigne said she was troubled by the “overall lack of balance” in the developer’s submittal. Picciotti said that was exactly the type of thing that could make the document vulnerable to legal challenge and said he was determined to eliminate it from the document. Picciotti also said that the board was entitled to apply “community standards” in evaluating the impact of traffic and was not strictly bound by the Highway Traffic Manual or engineering practice.

In regard to traffic on Rt. 20A, new board member Hank Latorella suggested that the community may be near “a tipping point” where the addition of one more Big Box will require a traffic light at the corner of Center Street. He said he felt this may be needed to allow people in the village to get off of side streets onto 20A. “I don’t know if the Lowe’s will put us there or not, but I suspect it will,” he said.

Marge Wilkie brought up the question of whether approval of this PDD would lead to a “slippery slope” proliferation of large retail stores on Volunteer Road, since the PDD law applies to the entire Gateway District. Hank Latorella said that he thought it would be unlikely since, “the more Big Boxes that come, the greater the impact will be.” He suggested it would be harder to get approval of future Big Boxes and that the process would be “self-limiting.”

This led to a discussion of whether Newman could be required to contribute to a Transportation Development District to help pay for future improvements. Attorney Picciotti indicated that such a requirement could be attached as a condition of site plan approval.

There was no mention or discussion of the request made by PDDG Monday to open up a public comment period on the supplemental materials submitted by the developer.

PDDG asks for additional public comment period on FEIS

After reviewing a copy of the proposed Final EIS drafted by Newman Development received pursuant to a FOIL request last week, Please Don’t Destroy Geneseo (PDDG) has written to the Town of Geneseo Planning Board requesting that an additional comment period be 0pened for the public to respond to supplemental material added since the Draft EIS was submitted last fall. The new draft FEIS for Newman’s PDD application contains over a dozen appendices containing new information on alternate route studies, Lima Road and South Street traffic studies, pedestrian access and more.

In its letter to the board, PDDG wrote that even though the board had voted last fall to declare the DEIS complete, “the subsequent decision to require the submission of additional information to satisfy the Scope rendered its completeness decision premature.” PDDG points out that providing the public an opportunity to be heard on all original and supplemental submissions during the EIS process is required under SEQR regulations.

The Planning Board is scheduled to meet tonight to begin work on the newly submitted material. Board Attorney Joe Picciotti advised at the last meeting, however, that he did not want the board to address detailed issues in the new submittal. He indicated that it would take at least 30 days after submittal for the town’s engineering and legal staff to review the new material and make a formal recommendation to the board as to how to proceed.

The Clarion Call website will make copies of significant new materials available online later in the week. Bill Lofquist will also publish a preliminary analysis of the draft FEIS in his column on Thursday.

Threat of litigation slows FEIS

The Geneseo Planning Board’s workshop on the Newman PDD proposal didn’t get very far Monday night after board attorney Joe Picciotti advised the board it would probably be better to wait until they receive the full draft Final EIS from the developer. Last week, the board received the first 16 pages of what looks to be a several hundred page document.

The developer’s engineers promised to get the rest of their draft to the board by next Monday Feb. 4, however, even after that Picciotti advised the board it would take at least a month before his office and the town’s engineers would be able to review the proposal and make recommendations.

In the mean time, Picciotti advised the board not to get into very specific discussion of the matter. The board is scheduled to meet again on Feb. 11, however, the attorney said that at that point the board should only take up what he called “macro issues.” Such issues, he suggested might be the absence of a requested study from the document.

Later, in the meeting Picciotti explained the reason for his caution. “I don’t want to be Pollyanna,” he told the board. “I fully expect that the town will be sued on this matter.” Accordingly, he pledged that the board would take its time to make sure that whatever decision is ultimately made will be defensible in court. Picciotti did not say who he expects the town to be sued by.

Planning Board asks for more info on traffic, precedent impacts

After completing its initial review of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) submitted by Newman Development Group last July, the Town Planning Board has determined that it is inadequate in a number of important respects and has issued guidelines for Newman to follow in revising and supplementing its DEIS.

A copy of these guidelines, drafted by MRB Group and sent to Newman on Jan. 6 were obtained today by PDDG after a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request. The 8-page “Technical Review” indicates that the Planning Board is particularly concerned about the inadequacy of the information provided regarding the traffic impacts of Newman’s proposed Gateway Town Center and the failure of Newman to address the conflicts between its proposal and the existing zoning for the Gateway District.

Before its review can continue, the Planning Board has requested that Newman complete Alternative Routes Studies that conform to the requirements of the scope adopted by the Planning Board, that it identify the traffic effects of its proposal on Lima Rd., and that it evaluate the capacity of Route 20A to handle additional traffic through the residential corridor of the Village.

Newman is also being required to produce a site plan and a traffic analysis that do not include a new curb cut on 20A. Such a curb cut has been part of Newman’s plans since GTC was first proposed, though it is explicitly prohibited by the existing zoning. The existing zoning also requires that new buildings face Volunteer Road and prohibits strip development along 20A; Newman is being required to explain how its proposal meets these requirements or why it shouldn’t have to do so.

Newman has also been asked to explain why its development could not be located at other potentially available sites in Geneseo. They are also being asked to complete an analysis of the effects of this development on future retail development in the Gateway. Newman had failed to include such analyses in its draft EIS.

It is understood that some additional material has already been sent by Newman to the planning board and it will be reviewed at a special workshop meeting on Monday, Jan. 28.