Members of PDDG were pleasantly surprised by the decision of the Planning Board last night to cut back the size of the proposed Lowe’s and orient the building towards Volunteer Road to make the project more in keeping with the existing zoning. (See news story on the Clarion News Blog). Although, in a perfect world we would have preferred a Negative Finding or an even smaller building, this was probably about as good a compromise as we were likely to get.
We also realize, of course, that the size reduction passed by the slimmest of margins, 3-2 with one abstention and with one very pro-Lowe’s member absent. When Chairman Folts suggested that it would be better to wait until the next meeting on May 27 to pass the Findings statement, however, some of us immediately smelled a rat.
Of course this followed Chairman Folts’s stunning admission of bias when he said that he was in favor of the Lowe’s project and didn’t want to add too much mitigation of the environmental impacts for fear that Newman would “walk away.” This comment portrayed a blatant disregard of the planning board’s legal duty to take a “hard look” at the project’s impacts and make sure they are mitigated to the maximum feasible degree.
It’s not hard to imagine that Newman’s minions will labor mightily to overturn the board’s recommendation in the coming two weeks before the next meeting. You can expect to hear threats that Lowe’s can’t possibly make money in a “tiny” 140,000 square foot store as well as thinly veiled threats of litigation and the usual back-door arm-twisting.
We hope the board will stand firm for what is really a very reasonable compromise of a very difficult problem. Kudos to board member Tom Curtin for joining with stalwarts Patti Lavigne and Marge Wilkie in upholding the spirit of the underlying planning and zoning. A tip of the hat also goes to new board member Hank Latorella for leading the charge on changing the orientation.
The cumulative effect of these decisions will be to make it much harder for sprawl to continue to the east down Rt. 20-A. Now the board just needs to hold the line against a reaction that is sure to be fierce.