Geneseo High School's cafeteria was filled with town and village residents Monday night, all clamoring to publicly voice their opinions on the proposed Lowe's in a hearing in front of the Geneseo Town Board and Town Planning Board.
The meeting is the latest step in the ongoing process of bringing Lowe's to Geneseo. If the Newman Development Group's proposal goes through, the store will be built on the corner of Route 20A and Volunteer Road.
The hearing, which was five hours long, allowed local residents to speak in front of the board for five minutes to state their opinions. It was apparent that the issue is far from settled, as both sides were equally firm in their views.
Those who were in opposition to the Lowe's shared the common concern that the increase in the amount of traffic on Route 20A would cause people to seek alternative routes, specifically Lima Road.
"I have seen a radical increase in the traffic on Lima Road in the past 25 years that I've lived here," said Jim Williams, a Geneseo resident. "Lima Road is not built for the heavy traffic that it has had."
Williams went on to say that the Draft Environment Impact Statement, a document created by the Newman Development Group about the environmental impacts of the store, failed to properly document the impact of the Lowe's on Lima Road's traffic.
Bill Lofquist, professor and chair of the sociology department as well as a member of the Village Board of Trustees, also brought the controversial issue of the Planned Development District law to the forefront. Many town residents contest that this law, passed in 2005, was proposed in order to specifically create zoning for the store.
"PDD laws may not be used to circumvent planning and zoning; to make an end run around the existing laws and policies of the community," he said. "And that is exactly what is being done here."
Additional concerns included the loss of small business due to the increased competition introduced by Lowe's, as well as the lack of tax benefits to residents in the town.
Williams also spoke about his loyalty to local businesses, saying, "We need to support the retention of profits and the retention of businesses in this community and we don't want to see these organizations disappear as they will if Lowe's comes in and bankrupts them."
All of the candidates in the upcoming, highly-contested town supervisor race were present. Please Don't Destroy Geneseo founder and supervisor candidate Corrin Strong spoke early in the evening with his concerns about the project.
Strong cited his problems with the PDD law, saying, "I'm sympathetic to anyone who wants the tax benefits, but if you want to build on a good foundation you have got to start with the right procedure and this town board did not start with the right procedure."
Many in support of the Lowe's did not find these arguments credible. "I feel it's not going to be as bad as these people are predicting and that PDDG is blowing it out of proportion," said Sharon McGinnis, a 30-year resident of the town.
Concerning the traffic issue, McGinnis said, "For 30 years we have always had a problem on 20A."
Don Linborg, a resident of Livonia, spoke of the convenience of a Lowe's in Geneseo: "I end up going to Henrietta and I spent $25,000 at Lowe's this year and that money could have gone to the Lowe's here," he said.
Another Geneseo resident, Ted Universal, spoke about his recent trip to the Henrietta Lowe's and the amount of traffic there.
"It looks to me like [Department of Transportation] and the government officials of Henrietta got together and solved the traffic system over there," he said. "Traffic moves smoothly from one place to another. I found that same type of thing could probably remedy some of the traffic issues that may develop around here."
Written public comments will be accepted until Nov. 8, after which the town planning board will spend a period of time considering proposed concerns. The PDD proposition will eventually go before the town board for a vote and if approved will create the necessary zoning to build the Lowe's.