In a continuing effort to bring you tomorrow’s news today, I am publishing below my commentary that will appear in this week’s LC News. (If it doesn’t make it in, you will have an exclusive!)
Consensus is possible on Lowe’s, but not simple
In last week’s issue of the paper there were three letters and a commentary published in support of the proposed Lowe’s. These proponents mainly made the now-familiar arguments for shopping convenience, jobs and increased tax revenue. It would be easy to have people on the Smart Growth side write back, challenge these points and counter with the issues of traffic, sprawl and damaged community character, but what good would it do?
At this point just about everybody is dug in with their own point of view and has stopped listening to the other side. In fact, I’m sure that a lot of people will look to see who wrote this commentary and stop reading when they see my name, because they think they know what I will say.
Over the past six months of campaigning for town supervisor I spent many hours discussing the Lowe’s issue with hundreds of people on all sides of the issue. I guess I’ve heard just about every possible argument both pro and con.
Many voters simply wanted to know if I was for Lowe’s or against it. To those, I tried to explain that it was not that simple. This is not a black and white issue, it contains many shades of gray. To those who think it is simple, I offer the words of H. L. Mencken, “For every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong.”
After listening to all these views, I tried to fashion a “compromise” solution that would allow the Lowe’s to go forward, but would address the concerns about traffic, precedent and future sprawl. For my efforts I was criticized from both sides. The anti-Big Box true believers accused me of selling out the cause, while I was unable to convince the pro-Lowe’s majority that I had truly changed my spots.
Your astute columnist Bill Cook opined that it was this “waffle” that cost me support in the election. While there may be some truth in that, I note that the sign of a good compromise is that it makes both sides unhappy. Judging from my last place finish, it seems like I might have been on to something!
I attribute a great part of the acrimony that has characterized this debate to failed leadership on the town’s part. Instead of making this an open process from the beginning and welcoming opinions on all sides, there has been a concerted effort to divide and conquer by controlling public input and knowledge of the issues. The pretense of hearing public comment on all issues in this complex matter in one 5-hour hearing scheduled right before the election is indicative of this cynical
Even so, I noted that when people got a chance to hear opposing views, both at the public hearing and at the town meeting the week before, that some of the hard edges fell off the arguments. This is because the people of Geneseo are generally fair-minded if given the chance to discuss an issue openly.
It is in the direction of more openness and more discussion that we must go if this issue is ever going to be resolved in a satisfactory manner. I believe a consensus can be found, but only after people on both sides begin to listen to the concerns of those on the other. Unfortunately, the bullying approach of the town and the developer for the past two years supplemented by the recent employment of an expensive PR campaign are hardly conducive to this process.
Important decisions should not be made under the pressure of such tactics. I urge the newly elected town board to reject Newman’s PDD application, so that the process can be started over and done right from the beginning, starting with a new master plan. This is the only way that the divisive damage done by the improper handling of this issue can begin to heal.
To those who think this is just another attempt to kill the project, I assure you that it is the quickest way to have it built. To go forward on the bad foundation laid by the current process is to invite protracted litigation in which only the lawyers will get rich. Haven’t we, as a community, learned anything from the refusal to compromise on the Team Cheer lease and the rental housing law?
Because this is the quickest way to resolve this, there is really no down side to the community by starting over. The record provides more than ample “rational basis” for the town to reject the PDD application. A decision to rezone to a PDD is a discretionary act on the part of the board and no applicant or landowner has any right to demand it.
Any threatened lawsuit over such a decision is merely posturing by the developer for the purpose of intimidating our officials and our community. It would be a huge mistake to give in to such tactics.