Geneseo, N.Y. After a marathon three-hour negotiating session Wednesday, progress appeared to be made on a solution to the Lowe’s controversy that has bedeviled the Town of Geneseo for over two years. Representatives from all interested parties including Newman Development, Lowe’s, the Geneseo Town Board, Please Don’t Destroy Geneseo (PDDG), Keep Geneseo Growing and Vibrant (KGVG) and the Smart Growth coalition participated in the meeting. A breakthrough came when Newman and Lowe’s agreed to reduce the size of the proposed 170,000 square foot building to 100,000 square feet and to consider paying for some off-site road improvements. The town board also agreed to place an immediate moratorium on future Big Box development while they studied reforming the PDD law and adopted a new master plan.
Didn’t hear about these negotiations? That’s probably because they weren’t real negotiations, but only mock ones staged as part of Communications Professor Mary Mohan’s course on Conflict Resolution at SUNY Geneseo. The negotiations were mainly carried on by students but there were some real world combatants advising each group. I had the honor of assisting a very able group of PDDG advocates who had apparently also been good students of the PDDG web site.
Other real world participants included town board members Dan Dimpfl and David Dwyer playing themselves, GCS student Eric Meyer representing Newman and Lowe’s, Lowe’s supporter Olympia Nicodemi advising KGVG and anti-Lowes activist Phil Bracchi advising the Smart Growth coalition. The discussions were mediated by a group of four students, while each team had about a half dozen students.
It is safe to say that more negotiating went on in this three hour class than has occurred in the real world on the subject in three years. The students plan to write up a report on the results of the negotiations and submit it to incoming Town Supervisor Will Wadsworth.
In the end, negotiations faltered over the amount of money Newman would pay for highway improvements and the process for determining that. PDDG opened the bidding by asking for a $10 million traffic impact fee. When Newman agreed to downsize the building, PDDG lowered the demand to $5 million. The Newman group, however, said they were unwilling to consider paying for any improvements other than those immediately adjacent to their property.
They pointed out that Geneseo already has a traffic problem on Rt. 20A and they did not feel it was fair to make the Lowe’s project bear all the costs of fixing it. PDDG argued, however, that Geneseo traffic was at a “tipping point” and that the 600 cars per hour predicted to travel to Lowe’s during peak hours was going to require major new work on the highway.
In the end, the Newman reps agreed to participate in a study of the traffic impacts and “consider” paying for mitigation of any that could be attributed to the Lowe’s store, however, they were not willing to agree to a suggested timetable for resolving that issue. PDDG suggested that a study and agreement could be reached in 3 months so that construction could be started next summer, however, the Newman group wanted construction to start first with agreement on mitigation to be worked out later.
Town Board member Dan Dimpfl made one last plea for compromise pointing out that a degree of trust was required on both sides, however it was clear that the PDDG group’s trust of corporate America did not extend that far. I advised them, in the words of Ronald Reagan, who was leaving the presidency about the time most of these students were born, “Trust, but verify!”
The class was a lot of fun, and it’s too bad that everybody in the “real world” can’t just sit down and negotiate like this, but that’s apparently not the way we do things here in Geneseo. My thanks go to a group of very talented students and Professor Mohan for sponsoring this very educational experience!