Desperate times?

It is said that “desperate times call for drastic measures,” and that is the only possible explanation for why the Geneseo Town Board would recklessly dive into the site plan business in an attempt to overturn their own Planning Board. (See yesterday’s Clarion News Blog.)

The town finally adopted the PDD zoning for the Gateway Town Centre last Thursday afternoon, but the vehicle, Local Law 2, also included a laundry list of directives about site plan that normally fall within the jurisdiction of the planning board. Even worse, a lot of the town board’s site plan ideas are in direct contradiction to the recommendations recently made by the Planning Board and the Town’s Architectural Review Committee.

Most controversial, perhaps, is the town’s concession that the proposed Lowe’s building can have a peak height of 45 feet. This is in contradiction to the 35 feet allowed by the town code and the 40 foot compromise approved by the Planning Board.

At the Planning Board meeting last Monday, where this matter was discussed with members of the Architectural Review Committee before a 4-2 vote to adopt the 40-foot limit, representatives of the developer claimed that they needed to have the 45 feet because having a big sign was part of Lowe’s “trademark.”

Having just finished a 5,000 mile road trip around the country, I can confirm that Lowe’s does have some of the most God-awful signs around. On the other hand, I have seen the beautiful stores in Dublin, Ohio and at Penn State, Pa. where there are no big ugly signs on the buildings at all, so it is clear that Lowe’s will make exceptions if a host town sticks to its guns.

Note: A reader sent in this picture of the Dublin Lowe’s. I never noticed the small sign, probably because I was distracted by the large atrium!

So, why did the town crumble? Contradicting and micromanaging your own planning board is not a good way to build warm and fuzzy feelings in the town government or the community. The town must know that and yet four of the town board members stuck their necks out for the developer.

For the answer, of course, we need to look no farther than the daily headlines. The economy, especially anything to do with housing and banking, is crumbling at an alarming rate. No one knows where the bottom is, but it has scared the Big Box Home Improvement stores enough that both Home Depot and Lowe’s have been furiously canceling construction of new planned stores, and in some cases, closing existing stores.

In this environment could a sign less than 45 feet high have been the “deal breaker?” Apparently the developer was successful at convincing the town board that it was. There doesn’t seem to be any other explanation for the political risk that the majority of the board has taken.

In the end, of course, Lowe’s will make its final decision on whether to build based on macro-economic factors and the state of the local economy, not the size of the sign. By blinking on the sign height, however, the town has sent the message that Geneseo is desperate for business no matter how ugly the building.

Whether the Planning Board, in its final site plan review, will obey the town’s directive is an interesting question. Hopefully the Planning Board will hold firm and protect its jurisdiction by rejecting this unwarranted intrusion.

Ironically, two of the votes for a 40 foot limit came from members appointed since the Lowe’s controversy started. When your own hand-picked appointees are trying to tell you something, perhaps it is time to listen.

P.S. I know my vacation from this column lasted longer than promised, but I’ve been having too much fun enjoying my new life as a tennis pro. I don’t promise to continue writing on a weekly basis, but will again when the spirit moves me.

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3 responses to “Desperate times?

  1. Corrin,

    Wow, seems like Lowe’s is being very successful at “scare” tactics and the board is getting in line due to the “perceived” risk that Lowes could cancel it’s plans. Doubtful, when the folks behind the project at Lowes know they will be able to put every mom and pop hardware shop out of business in a 3 or 4 county radius.

    Question, has the planning board or town board held to the standard of “dark sky compliant” lighting, such as what was used for the Super Walmart? Just want to make sure the board has not caved on that stipulation as well. I would have a REAL problem with that if they did.

  2. I haven’t heard of the “dark sky compliant” stipulation, but the light pollution is one concern I have as well. (It is minor compared to the destruction of numerous local businesses.) I live near Conesus Lake and can always see a small glow near the horizon to the north west.

    It is incredible to me that the board is trying hard to sell the Town out. Geneseo is not that strapped for cash and as has been shown, Lowe’s would not generate that much more overall. I used to sell services to municipal governments in Michigan. I’ve seen firsthand what can happen to a municipality when they hand everything over to the big boxes. I’m sure their boards didn’t think they were doing any harm to the community either.

    If Lowe’s comes to Geneseo, I’m going to hope that it goes the way of Starbucks. (They certainly didn’t think they’d ever close their store in Geneseo either.)

  3. Phillip J. Bracchi

    I find it almost incomprehensible that educated representatives would live in such fear that they would kowtow to a “I’ll take my ball and go play somewhere else!” threat. I thought childhood was long past, but bullying survives in its new identity of economic extortion. How sad!

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