Preserving Small Towns
by Bill Lofquist

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Published by Clarion Publications, Geneseo, NY

The case for concept rejection of the Newman PDD (June 22, 2006)
By Bill Lofquist & Corrin Strong, Please Don't Destroy Geneseo (PDDG)

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 commercial development.
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 views.
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.



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