Residents of Stringham Drive and Violet Lane made it pretty clear at a Town of Batavia Planning Board meeting Tuesday night -- they don't want an out-of-town developer creating another State or Thorpe street in their neighborhood.
Several residents spoke about their concerns over the proposed Garden Estate development, whose developer is reportedly receiving a $6 million grant to build 19 subsidized homes, even though there's no evidence of a shortage of low-income housing in Genesee County.
The purpose of the meeting was to uncover areas of concern residents might have related to the environmental impact of the project and create what's called a "scoping document." That is a detailed outline of issues that will be contained in the environmental review statement.
While some residents worried about traffic impacts, most comments were pointed at the developer, Rochester-based Nathaniel Development Corp., and whether the project is really needed in Batavia.
Only one representative of Nathaniel was at the meeting, attorney James Bonsignore, and the unwillingness of corporate executives to attend serves as proof, residents said, that Nathaniel is trying to pull a fast one on Batavia. Planning board members say it's very unusual for the main developer not to go to at least one meeting during the review process.
"My other concern," said one resident after questioning the integrity of the developer, "is the type of people who are going to move in and how it impacts the rest of the community."
That was one of the statements that seemed to upset Bonsignore, who stormed out of the meeting when it was over, and initially refused to answer a reporter's questions or even share a copy of his business card.
Pressed for a response to some of the points raised by residents, Bonsignore spun around and said, "Here, you want a statement, one of the persons tonight said that his main concern is the type of people that are going to live there. He made an admission on the record that they're asking the board to discriminate. The law is absolutely clear that uses as determined by the planning board are to be determined by the use of the land not the persons who own it or occupy it."
Bonsignore also became testy during the meeting, when asked near the end to provide information on a reported $6 million grant for Garden Estates. He refused.
"I don't want to disclose it," Bonsignore said. "That information will come out, but when I'm sitting here under personal attack, when I'm just here to represent a developer on a project and I'm attacked for just doing my job, I'm not going to participate in this discussion."
While several residents called Nathaniel Development Corp. untrustworthy, and seemed dismayed over the developer's lack of transparency, none of their remarks were directed at Bonsignore.
Though some people did indicate that, previously, Bonsignore more or less tried to run the meeting and tell the planning board how to do its job.
"They (Nathaniel Development) are dishonest and deceitful and they don't show up at our meetings," said Jean Butzer, summing up the sentiments expressed by several residents. "I'm not saying I don't want this development in my neighborhood. I'm saying I don't want them in my town or in my county."
Several people applauded Butzer's remarks.
At the start of the meeting, Bonsignore made a statement at the request of Kathy Jasinski, chairwoman of the board, and said that worries over how the project is funded and who might move into the 19 homes are beyond the scope of an environmental review.
"This is a single-family subdivision," Bonsignore said. "Whether it is financed publicly or privately is not an environmental issue and should be of no concern to the board."
Because a previous scoping document was completed, Bonsignore said, the only two areas of further review -- noted as an area of concern in the previous process -- are traffic and the extension of Violet Lane. Any other subjects, he said, were out of bounds.
Attorney Kevin Earl, representing the planning board, disagreed with Bonsignore.
"(In reviewing the law) I didn't see anything in scoping that limited it just to areas that are checked as significant concerns," Earl said. "It's up to the board to say what they want in the scoping document. I can't see a court overturning a review because the board wanted to review too much."
After Bonsignore pressed the point again that the board can only review the two issues, Town Engineer Steve Mountain spoke up.
"If that were indeed true, then there wouldn’t be any need to have a public scoping process," Mountain said. "If it’s already set in stone, then why do the regulations require a public process?"
Jasinski made it clear the board is going to expect a fully completed scoping document with all of its concerns addressed.
"It's been the practice of this planning board to take a good hard look at SEQRA issues," Jasinski said. "We intend to have all of our questions answered and we want to get public input. We intend to put the two scoping documents together and come up with our final scoping document."
Top photo, attorney James Bonsignore. Bottom photo, resident Ron Penepent, speaking.
Penepent questioned taxpayer money being used to fund the project and what will be done with the money. Another resident noted that 19 homes priced at $150,000 each doesn't equal $6 million in cost.
Other residents said they have contacted their state and federal representatives about the use of taxpayer money on a project that is seemingly not needed, but haven't gotten much of a response.
One lady said she's written to both Assemblyman Steve Hawley and State Sen. Mike Ranzenhofer and received back form letters referring her to the town planning board as the proper place to raise her concerns.