The movement to bring a Lowe's to Geneseo, one of the most hotly debated topics in the upcoming local election, has cleared a significant hurdle.
At their meeting on Sept. 24, the town planning board approved the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, a document prepared by the development group trying to build the Lowe's that explains the extent to which the project will impact the environment. Its acceptance is the latest step in a two-year process that will now allow for the issue to move into the public comment and discussion phase.
Support for the Lowe's in the community varies. Concern revolves around the possibility of harming the integrity of Geneseo's "small town feel" as well as hurting local businesses, while others feel it will positively impact the community by bringing jobs and increasing tax revenue.
Town Supervisor Wes Kennison said most people he encounters are in favor: "People who talk to me about Lowe's are in support of it 4 to 1."
The controversy over the possible Lowe's began with the July 2005 passing of the Planned Development District law, which allows the town to negotiate zoning for incoming businesses.
Some claimed that this law was passed directly in conjunction with the proposal of the Newman Development Group for the purpose of building the Lowe's in the town's Gateway District. This district, located off Route 20 and Volunteer Road, is an area allocated for commercial development.
Kennison denied this claim. "Any community like Geneseo needs a PDD law which gives you bargaining abilities," he said. "If anyone says that the PDD was for Lowe's, that is wrong."
Please Don't Destroy Geneseo, a group founded in October 2005 by local community activist Corrin Strong, opposes the proposal for the planned 170,000-square-feet designated for Lowe's and other stores.
"The original plan was a lot more than just a Lowe's," he said. "They were talking about a Lowe's before they had opened the Wal-Mart and knew its impact."
The group filed a lawsuit against the Town of Geneseo this past March on the grounds of the Freedom of Information Law, which requires the town to provide public documentation of any proposal that falls under the PPD law. The case was thrown out in district court but is currently awaiting appeal in the State Supreme Court.
PDDG organized a meeting about the Lowe's in Geneseo this past Monday that was attended by about 40 people. "A lot of people were concerned with the issue of traffic and a lot of people are upset that it will be distributed through the village," said junior Fiona Murray, who attended the meeting.
PDDG argues that the Gateway District allocates land for light industrial business and is not being used for its intended purpose.
Kennison, however, said that if the Lowe's was built in the district, it wouldn't be wasting acreage that could go other businesses.
According to the Sept. 27 issue of the Livingston County News, local trade unions have offered their support for the project with a few conditions. Representative Tom Mairs of the Empire State Regional Council of Carpenters said, "We would support Lowe's 100 percent if they come in here and pay an area standard wage to local contractors."
Some students, while professing to not know much about the topic, feel that the Lowe's would be a positive change.
"I think it's needed and it won't interfere with the atmosphere of Main Street," said junior Cait Uihlein. "If they put it where the businesses are, it will help the community by providing jobs."
"Uptown is already developed enough as it is, they won't hurt anything by putting a Lowe's up there," said freshman Arthur Holtz.
The next step in the process will be a hearing at Geneseo High School on Oct. 29 that will give anyone in the community an opportunity to state their feelings about the Lowe's with the town board and the town planning board.