Category Archives: zmich

The Planning Board Must Remain Independent

zmich-01.jpg By John Zmich

It’s been an honor and a privilege to be a member of the Geneseo Town Planning Board for the last fourteen years. It’s a unique and important part of local government and it’s been my pleasure to serve with many talented and thoughtful individuals who believe in the importance of serving their community.

As has been well documented on this web site, the past few years of my service have been marked by acrimony and contention, as members of the town board have sought to manipulate the planning board and the larger planning and zoning processes in favor of Newman Development Group’s Lowe’s proposal.

There are a number of safeguards designed to protect the independence of town planning boards. Two examples are the seven-year terms for planning board members and the rules and customs that limit contact between town board and planning board members regarding any projects before the planning board.

These safeguards are important because they insure that planning board members will do the people’s work of enforcing the town’s zoning regulations without political interference. A planning board member’s job is not to decide what businesses come into town but rather to meticulously examine an application and see that the applicant follows the letter and intent of the law.

Up until recently, planning board members in Geneseo have traditionally been reappointed. Beginning with the town board’s failure to reappoint Craig MacCauley and my removal as chair last year and now with my removal from the board this year, the town board has taken an aggressive stand to remove all differences of opinion on the board regarding a single issue (Lowe’s).

I was fired (not reappointed) and replaced with a vocal Lowe’s supporter at the recommendation of the newly elected supervisor without so much as a word of explanation. I hope this lack of professionalism and common courtesy does not become a hallmark of his tenure in office. This kind of personnel shuffling for a specific agenda is a scary reminder of how easily the process can be subverted and the independence of the planning board destroyed.

While I was serving on the planning board, I felt it was inappropriate for me to comment publicly on the “Battle of the Boards”. Now that I have been “liberated” from these constraints, I feel it is my duty to speak out about what has really been going on.

It has been suggested that civility has been a casualty of this entire Lowe’s controversy. If so, the former supervisor bears the responsibility for the climate that was created. In his rush to put the interests of a large out-of-town developer before the interests of the town, he continually tried to vilify those who held a different opinion.

In his most recent interview in this paper there were numerous examples of a complete disconnect between what the former supervisor says and what actually happened. I am particularly offended by his hostile remarks about members of the community who have participated in the process in an open and honorable way.

I know for a fact that no offer to “debate and resolve differences” was ever made to me. His continued cynical and mean-spirited attacks on the many conscientious citizens engaged in the Master Plan process is an example of how he deals with those who hold a different opinion.

In addition, throughout our consideration of the Lowe’s issue, there were constant baseless threats of litigation designed to intimidate or mislead planning board members and the general public regarding the real issues.

Members of the town planning board are charged with helping create a vision of what our community should look like. The careful examination of an application by the planning board, particularly one so large, precedent-setting, and at odds with our existing zoning, is not akin to “staring at our navels for the next five years.” This kind of language is an example of how the former supervisor attempted to denigrate the legal responsibility of the planning board.

I recognize that economic development doesn’t come easy in upstate New York. However, I disagree with the former supervisor’s claim that “light industrial and office development are pie in the sky.” In reality, the new Empire Zone in Geneseo, which was just awarded in 2006, has never been given a fair opportunity to work. Further, I don’t believe transforming the town into a super-sized retail plaza is the way to achieve economic prosperity and maintain what we all love about Geneseo. Surely we are capable of imagining and achieving a brighter future for ourselves and our children.

The next few years in Geneseo are critical. We only get one chance to protect our town from inappropriate development. If you haven’t been involved in this issue, I urge you to do so. Attend meetings, study the issues and hold our local officials accountable. The last few years have shown me how easily we can lose what we have.

I value the many friends I’ve made over the past 14 years, even the ones I might disagree with on a particular issue. I plan to stay involved and support efforts to bring real economic opportunity and jobs to our community, and most importantly, to help keep the planning board independent.