The case for concept rejection
of the Newman PDD (June 22, 2006)
By Bill Lofquist & Corrin Strong, Please Don't Destroy Geneseo
Editor's note: This is the Executive
Summary of a 7 page memo recently delivered to the Geneseo Town
Planning Board. PDDG has requested time on the agenda of the
Planning Board meeting this coming Monday to make this case.
Over the past ten years, the Town of Geneseo
has developed planning and zoning documents to guide the development
of the Gateway District. From the beginning, these plans have
emphasized light industrial and office uses.
Commercial, particularly retail, uses have been limited, by
both location and square footage. Indeed, the $1.5 million in
County tax revenues used to develop Volunteer Road and the associated
water and sewer infrastructure, were made available under a
state law that explicitly prohibited their use in support of
The planning principles on which these documents are based are
sound. Retail development has long been recognized as a weak
source of economic development and thus a poor use of public
economic development dollars.
Retail provides low wage and low or no benefit employment, displaces
significant amounts of local economic activity, and generates
large volumes of traffic. It has also been viewed as inappropriate
to use local tax dollars to subsidize development of retail
businesses that will compete with existing taxpayers.
Finally, although large retail projects do generate significant
sales and property taxes, these gains are mostly offset by increased
government costs for public services and infrastructure improvements.
Local planning has recognized the high levels of community concern
about traffic and poorly planned development (sprawl), problems
most closely associated with retail development. Local planning
has also recognized the importance of protecting Geneseo's many
assets: its vibrant and attractive Main St., its National Historic
Landmark District, and its beautiful rural setting and scenic
The series of zoning laws passed for the Gateway District in
the mid-1990s were guided by these planning principles and public
concerns. Through the zoning for the Mixed Use I, Mixed Use
II, Mixed Use III areas, and Gateway Overlay District zoning,
the Town of Geneseo established standards intended to limit
traffic congestion and sprawl by limiting retail development
and the size of retail busineeses, limiting the construction
of new curb cuts on Route 20A, and promoting internal development.
In late 2004, the Town was approached by the Newman Development
Group about the possibility of a large scale retail development
in the Gateway District. Recognizing that this use was zoned
out of the Gateway, the Town moved to enact a Planned Development
District (PDD) law that allowed the relaxation of square footage
and other zoning requirements. Over significant public opposition,
the Town Board passed this law in July 2005.
This initiated a series of actions to support and advance the
Newman proposal despite strong public opposition to the proposal
and serious questions raised by the County Planning Board.
However, the PDD law does not relax, weaken, or in any way circumvent
the planning on which the Gateway District zoning was based.
Large-scale retail development in the Gateway District would
be permissible only pursuant to a new Comprehensive Master Plan
that supports such development.
The current Comprehensive Master Plan Committee has proposed
a Draft Plan that recommends against exactly this type of development
in the Gateway. This recommendation is grounded in survey results
and focus groups that make it clear that the community is strongly
opposed to unbridled commercial sprawl and its effects on traffic
and community character.
The Gateway Town Center proposal is in fundamental conflict
with more than ten years of state, county, and local planning
and zoning. As a result, and for the reasons elaborated herein,
we respectfully suggest it should be rejected.