Not so sweet home Canandaigua

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By Ben Gajewski

Editor’s note: Last week Bill Lofquist mentioned development in Canandaigua in his column, which prompted a comment to be posted by Ben Gajewski, a native of that Ontario County city. We were so impressed with Ben’s comments that we asked him to expand his thoughts into a guest column.

I have been asked to expand on my comments on the growth of Canandaigua over the past several years and on the changes that I have seen in the community as a result. The majority of my comments and reflections are based upon my experience of living in the town of Canandaigua for 20 years. For your reference, Canandaigua lies 37 minutes from downtown Rochester.

During my time in Cdga. (ending in 2006) I was not particularly concerned with the development of the town. Either development was slower then or I was blinded by the fact that it was occurring around me every day.

The most noticeable changes evident to me have occurred since I moved to Geneseo two years ago. It seems as though every time I return to Cdga. (every two or three months), new chain stores, new Big Box stores, and new housing developments spring up.
Tops Supermarket built just north of the City. Wal-Mart abandoned its store in favor of building a SuperWal-Mart just 200 feet east (located in the town of Hopewell). And Lowes also built (in the town of Hopewell) right next to SuperWal-Mart.

These developments have created a string of large box stores with vast parking lots extending off of the main roads when entering Cdga. from the north and east. The curb cuts and stoplights that now exist for each box and mini-mall make the gateways truly unsightly and a hassle to drive through, especially when you are only passing through these box districts. Not only are these developments unsightly, but a path of empty warehouses and vast parking lots stand behind the new shiny stores.

The new SuperWal-Mart now stands next to the abandoned old Wal-Mart. Even if this abandoned store is filled with smaller retailers, the parking lot will never be fully utilized. The Lowe’s too has left the former medium size retail Chase Pitkins out of business.

The former Chase Pitkins is currently undergoing major renovations to become a strip mall. Wegmans too left a big box behind after it moved a few miles down the road to build a larger store. Now, the former Wegmans plaza is a strip mall with a parking lot that goes mostly unused.

Chains have been filling in the mini-malls left behind by the boxes and those chains that prefer not to fill empty space have created buildings in their own like, with their own parking lots and their own road access.

Walgreens (built own store) recently opened directly across from (one of) the Eckerd Pharmacy’s (built own store and in a strip mall), a Blockbuster (built own store in parking lot) opened within a mile of the Movie Gallery (has two locations both in strip malls), and AutoZone (built own store) is .1 miles from Advanced Auto Parts (strip mall). Starbucks (filled vacated Wendy’s), Applebees (built in parking lot), Tacobell (built in parking lot) and the list goes on. Currently, the Chase Pitkins plaza is the hot topic and the community is speculating on what chains will move in.

Of particular interest are the chains that have opened multiple stores. Today, two Tim Horton’s and two Eckerd Pharmacy’s lie less than 3 miles from their respective partner store.

While traffic is not impossible to navigate, it has gotten noticeably worse over the past few years. Route 332 (north of Cdga.) and Routes 5 and 20 (east of Cdga.) are both four lane roads feeding into and out of Main Street. These roads are constantly busy with traffic, so much so that I find it irritating to even drive on them.

It also has gotten noticeably worse for pedestrians. Several individuals have been hit trying to cross Main Street and even one death. Not all of these traffic problems are due to the development of chain stores and big boxes, but the stores certainly play a part. Housing development also plays a part in these traffic problems.

Housing developments have been springing up in Cdga. even faster than stores have. Throughout the Town, farm fields have been converted from crop production to housing. Strips of identical homes line private drives on nearly every country road.

My parents live four and a half miles from the center of Cdga. on what I consider a country road. The farm fields that used to exist on all four sides of their home are no longer; instead, there are homes on all four sides of their house. Three hundred homes now surround my parent’s property, all similar and close enough to be mistaken for a city block.

The reason for considering the recent housing growth in Cdga. is because of its link to the commercial development the Town is now wrestling with. Cdga.’s comprehensive plan explains that every dollar of taxes from residential areas cost more than a dollar in municipal services. As an area gains more residential units the difference between taxes paid and the expenses provided by the municipality diverge. The plan further states that local officials often hope that development will offset this tax problem caused by residential growth.

From the studies that I have seen this seems to be a major misconception of retail development. If municipalities want to gain tax revenue, open farm fields are perhaps the best solution, “cows don’t go to school.” While Cdga.’s recent commercial development is not solely due to recent increases in residential housing, there is likely a connection between the housing boom and the interest in Cdga. by national chains and box stores.

Cdga. has really changed in the past several years and it no longer holds the sense of place that it once had for me. I no longer look forward to trips to my hometown and I can barely stand traveling along the busy roads lined with parking lots, box and chain stores.

Everyone needs a place to live, and we all want economic prosperity, but sacrificing one’s sense of community seems an awful price to pay. These are complicated and interconnected issues with which I am attempting to grapple and expect to grapple for some time.

I hope this synopsis of Canandaigua might provide some insight for the reader. Please do comment and ask any questions if something is unclear.

Ben Gajewski is a recent graduate of SUNY Geneseo and is employed by the Genesee Valley Conservancy.

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