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August 11, 2017 - 7:05pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in planning, Oakfield, news, land use.

Even though an Oakfield resident got thumbs down from the county planning board in her bid to open a small retail store in the former St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Oakfield, she still might be able to do it.

The church building at 15 S. Main St., next to the 7-Eleven in Oakfield, isn't zoned for commercial uses.

When the application first came forward, County Planning Director Felipe Oltramari thought the owner, Denise Linsey, would qualify for a home-occupation exemption, but it turns out Linsey doesn't live on the property. The property does have a house on it, but it is a rental property.

Oltramari said to qualify as a home-occupation, the property resident must be the owner or an immediate family member of the owner.

Linsey, a Mary Kay distributor, was planning to use the church as an outlet for customers to view Mary Kay products.

But the county planning board, which voted on the matter Thursday evening, doesn't have final say in the decision. Its vote is a recommendation to the Oakfield Planning Board, which can still grant the variance with a majority-plus-one vote.

Oltramari suggested Linsey seek a rezone of the property. Linsey said the house and the church are too close together. Oltramari said that could be addressed with a variance on the setback.

August 11, 2017 - 6:18pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Gateway II, GCEDC, county planning, land use, batavia, business.

A Rochester-based company is working on plans to build five structures in the industrial park bounded by Oak Orchard Road and West Saile Drive, known as Gateway II, that investors hope will attract new business and jobs to the area.

The Genesee County Planning Board was asked to review the site plan for five buildings that will be a mix of warehouse and office space on an 18.8-acres lot and last night the board recommended approval.

Dave Cuirzynski, representing Gateway LS LLC, a subsidiary of Gallina Development Corp., said the company plans to start with one structure, find a tenant and use that to attract more tenants for the other four structures.

"This gives us some added space for companies to come in and attract more businesses," Cuirzynski said. "We can start developing Gateway so it can do what it was intended to do."

Gateway II is a shovel-ready industrial park developed by the Genesee County Economic Development Center. It is 57 acres and includes facilities for Ashley Furniture and Milton Caterpillar.

Gallina is planning a $2.625 million investment in the project, leading to the construction of 25,000 square feet of building that a potential tenant can modify to meet any business need, from office space to warehouse to light industrial.

The other four buildings could be as large as 27,000 square feet.

According to GCEDC officials, the agency regularly received requests for proposals for ready-to-use space, but it often isn't available locally. This new construction will help fill that gap.

The company is seeking sales and property tax exemptions of approximately $140,000. A public hearing on the request will be held on a date yet to be announced.

April 14, 2017 - 1:22pm

Mercy EMS is finding its current ambulance staging area at St. Jerome's on Bank Street a little cramped and not conducive to keeping ambulances ready to roll in all kinds of weather, so it's planning a new 11,500 square foot facility off Route 98, just north of the Thruway, in the Town of Batavia.

The new facility will cost about $2 million and the site plan was reviewed and recommended for approval last night by the County Planning Board.

"There’s no space," said Mercy EMS General Manager Bill Schutt of the current location. "We’re in essentially four old hospital rooms there. There’s very limited parking space, obviously, if you’ve been there. In winter times, it’s especially difficult. Ambulances have fluids in them, medications that need to be kept warm, so you’re trying to run heaters inside them to warm them while parked outside. We don’t have any space there to hold meetings, do training, any additional private spaces, very limited crew space."

The new facility will have eight interior parking bays and additional spaces with electrical hook-ups for ambulances to park outside in emergency overflow situations.

The location, 2.2 acres being split out from an 8.6 parcel, is part of the Gateway II project on Call Parkway, just off of Oak Orchard Road.

Schutt said the new location will have no effect on response times.

There will also be expanded crew space, a meeting and training room.

The new location will also include a purchasing department that will house regional purchasing for Mercy Flight.

Also on Thursday's agenda:

  • The board recommended approval of two new commercial buildings on a parcel just north of Home Depot, abutting the Thruway, at 4181 Veterans Memorial Drive. The buildings will be a 12,600 square foot facility that will house medical offices and a 7,500 square foot building that will contain three spaces. Two will be restaurant spaces. The $1.2 million project is being undertaken by Holland Trotta out of Rochester.  A spokesman for the developer told planners that the large space was originally intended for a well-known local restaurant, but those plans changed. The signage on the architectural drawings in the planning board packet for the smaller building show an urgent care business and a Mexican chain restaurant, Qdoba Mexican Eats.
  • The board recommended approval of a conditional use permit for 17.4-acre, 2-megawatt solar farm at 2901 Pearl Street Road, Batavia. 
  • The board recommended approval of a nine-month moratorium on the planning and construction of solar farms in Stafford, giving officials time to review policies and zoning plans for such facilities.
  • The board recommended approval of a site plan review for a new 29,456 square foot paddock at Batavia Downs to be constructed on the east side of the race track. The previous paddock was removed to make room for construction of the new hotel. Currently, stables, are being used for paddock space. Paddocks are where horses and drivers are prepared for each race and return to after the race for washing and testing (winning horses are tested for banned substances, as required by the gaming commission). 
January 20, 2017 - 10:08am
posted by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, land use, planning, news, Alabama, batavia, byron, elba, Oakfield, and Pembroke..

Press release:

A state-mandated 30-day public review period has begun for Agricultural Districts No. 2 in the towns of Alabama, Batavia, Byron, Elba, Oakfield and Pembroke.

The Genesee County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board announced that Agricultural District No. 2 will embark on its eight-year review with a 30-day public review period beginning on Jan. 26.

As with every eight-year review, landowners with lands in the district under review will be asked to complete a worksheet where they will be given the option to enroll or withdraw property from the district. Only entire parcels can be included or excluded.

Landowners will receive the worksheet, along with a letter, informational brochure, and map of the current district boundaries in the next couple of days. Each landowner will have until Friday, Feb. 24th of this year to mail the worksheets to the Department of Planning in the envelopes provided. This deadline also coincides with the deadline for the Annual Enrollment Period, which allows for inclusion of predominantly viable agricultural land to any of the County’s Agricultural Districts pending review by the Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board. In addition, nearby landowners that are receiving Agricultural Tax Assessments and are not part of the Agricultural Districts Program will be mailed a letter and form inviting them to join the program.

During this 30-day period, a map of the District will be on file and open to the public in the office of the Genesee County Clerk and at the Genesee County Department of Planning.Any municipality whose territory encompasses the above Agricultural District, any State Agency or any landowner within or adjacent to the District, may propose a modification of the District during this period. The District and any proposed modification will be submitted to the Genesee County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board for review. Consequently, a public hearing on the District and any proposed modifications will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 10, at the Genesee County Old Courthouse, 7 Main St., Batavia.

At the conclusion of this review, the Genesee County Legislature will vote on any modifications to the District and send the proper materials to the State Department of Agriculture and Markets for recertification. The public is encouraged to attend all open meetings.

By enrolling land in the Agricultural Districts Program, participating farmers can receive relief from nuisance claims and certain forms of local regulation. Enrollment is free and voluntary. For a free informational brochure, please contact the Genesee County Department of Planning. Phone: (585) 815-7901; fax: (585) 345-3062; email: [email protected] Visit us on the Web at www.co.genesee.ny.us/departments/planning.

January 19, 2017 - 12:39pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in smart growth, planning, land use, Oakfield, Alabama.

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Up next for the county's tri-annual update to our Smart Growth Plan is a presentation Feb. 13 to the Public Service Committee of the Genesee County Legislature.

Planning Director Felipe Oltramari and planning staff have toured the county, providing interested residents at town-hall-style meetings information and maps outlining the proposed changes to the plan.

The final such meeting was Tuesday at the community center in Oakfield and covered the proposed plan for Oakfield and Alabama.

The goal of the plan is to protect farmland from suburban-like sprawl and guide population centers toward a denser, mixed-use, more pedestrian-friendly environment.

These are the types of communities younger generations of families and workers are looking for, Oltramari said. Younger families want to have more amenities and services within walking distance of their homes and have a stronger sense of neighborhood than offered by traditional suburban development where all lots are the same size, all homes have the same floor plan and residents come home from work, pull into their garage and never say "hi" to a neighbor.

The plan for Oakfield (pdf) includes allowing development along Pearl Street out to Batavia Oakfield Townline Road.

In response to a resident's question, Oltramari suggested this area is well positioned for the kind of denser, mixed-use, walkable neighborhood many people want these days.

A resident brought up a decades-old housing development in Le Roy that is more than a mile outside of the village and noted residents just drive to Tops, and "what's wrong with that?" and Oltramari said those are the kind of developments that contribute to the decline of villages such as Le Roy.

Islands of suburban-like development tend to encourage people to move out of older villages and don't bring in new residents, he said, and then the old Victorian homes in the village become multi-unit rentals.

"What happened along with that is their downtown died," Oltramari said. "A lot of people who used to walk into the shops, a lot of families whose kids used to walk to school and go downtown are not there anymore. They’re being bussed and they’re being driven and a lot of people who live in the village are transient people. There are consequences to doing that, but when you build little neighborhoods, you tend to attract people from the outside."

The Smart Growth Plan contemplates new homes being built that fit into a hamlet's or village's character (differing lot sizes, different architectural treatments), but helps keep homes clustered around the village, which will encourage rehab of the remaining older homes.

For Alabama (pdf), growth could mean a demand for more housing, but instead of converting farmland into housing tracts, the plan is designed to grow the existing hamlet into a village.

None of this -- like any planning document -- is written into stone, Oltramari noted after Tuesday's meeting. There are processes to override the plan, but those are difficult barriers to overcome. A town's board, the county planning board and the County Legislature would all have to approve a development not fitting in the current development boundaries, and if that happened there would be legal challenges.

The Smart Growth Plan development process dates back to 2001 and was part of the agreement to bring Monroe County Water into Genesee County. The county is required to update the plan every three years in order to continue to expand the public water supply flowing from Monroe County Water.

There are future funding mechanisms dependent on abiding by the plan, and the Sierra Club is on record, Oltramari said, of claiming it is prepared to file a lawsuit if the county doesn't develop and abide by the plan to protect farmland.

For more on the Smart Growth Plan, and to view maps for each community that outline development areas, click here. The Feb. 13 meeting, likely to start at 4:30 p.m. at the Old Courthouse, is open to the public.

July 19, 2016 - 1:01pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in solar farms, land use, solar energy, agriculture, news.

Local municipalities with farmland should consider whether they want to address the issue of a zoning code for solar farms, Genesee County Planning Director Felipe Oltramari told members of the Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board at last night's meeting.

There are a couple of companies who have approached local landowners, Oltramari said, and if towns in the area want solar farms within their borders, they need to address it with a zoning code change and then decide how to regulate the farms.

Towns that do nothing, that currently have no permitted use for solar farms, will be deciding by default not to allow solar farms in those jurisdictions, Oltramari said.

If a land use isn't expressly mentioned in the local zoning code than it is completely prohibited.

Only the Town of Batavia has created provisions for solar farms, and it's a pretty bare-bones code at this point, Oltramari said.

The Town of Batavia took the action after SunEdison approached a local landowner about building a solar farm. An attorney representing SunEdison attended a couple of town meetings, but there's been no apparent progress with SunEdison since then and currently SunEdison is going through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.

Since then, no other town has moved forward with solar farm zoning, but the Town of Oakfield is considering a solar farm on its land adjacent to its wastewater treatment plan and the Town of Alabama is considering a solar farm for the retired quarry in the town. 

"I think that’s a perfect use for that, too," Oltramari said.

The Town of Batavia is also looking into a solar farm on its former landfill.

The big issue for agricultural land, however, is that a solar farm would take the land out of crop production.

Agriculture average typically leases for about $60 a year and solar companies will pay $1,500 per acre per year for 20 years.

"This has alarmed farmers that rely on rented land for their operations," Oltramari said.

Companies looking to set up solar farms are typically looking for 20-acre parcels and they must be within two miles of a power substation.

Donn Branton, chairman of the Farmland Protection Board, thinks landowners should look carefully at any deal offered by a solar company.

"The frosting sounds pretty good, but the cake batter seems to get pretty messy," Branton said. 

There's a two-year planning process and the company decides what part of your farm it wants, he said, and then during construction they decide where the roads go.

"They pretty much have the run of your farm," he said. 

And taking the land out of production could cause it to be reclassified as commercial property rather than farmland, increasing the property tax rate. 

'It's something you want to investigate thoroughly with a legal service," Branton said. "$1,500 sounds great, but then you've got all the stipulations that go with it."

Oltramari recommended that towns -- and potentially landowners -- address issues such as preserving topsoil and herbicide use (in the event the land ever reverts to food production).

Zoning could also be used to limit the location and size of solar farms, buffer zones and visual screening.

Typically, in this area, solar companies are looking for 20-acre farms that produce two to four megawatts of energy.

One megawatt of solar energy could power 165 homes.

An energy generation facility (solar or wind) that produces more than 25 megawatts is exempt from local zoning laws, but such a farm in Western New York would need 125 to 200 acres of land, so Oltramari doesn't foresee such a farm coming to Genesee County.

May 18, 2016 - 8:00am
posted by Howard B. Owens in town of batavia, batavia, planning, land use, business.

From the Town of Batavia Planning Board's meeting last night:

  • Jeff Price met with the board to discuss his plans for two or three off-road truck events at the Genesee County Fairgrounds this year. Called Flex Rock 4x4, Price organized two events last year and he said they went very well. The first event wasn't well publicized and the turnout was mostly local drivers and truck owners, but by the time the second event rolled around, word had gotten out and drivers came from as far away as North Carolina. He said neighboring residents attended the first event to see what it was about and he hasn't received any complaints. He said the fair board is happy with his events. He asked the planning board for a letter approving the events, which the board will provide.
  • Chris Moiser, owner of Area 51, presented his plans for the 2016 season and received board support. He is planning races June 4-5, July 2-3, July 30-31, Sept. 3-4 and Nov. 13, with an MX race Oct. 29-30 and the Dirty Girl Mud Run on July 16.
  • Dale Banfield presented plans for outdoor concerts at the Waggin Wheel restaurant on Park Road. He's planning on hosting a couple of concerts featuring country bands and '80s classic rock. The concerts will be in a fenced-in area with proceeds from food sales going to local volunteer fire departments. Ticket sales would cover the cost of the bands. He said he's already spoken with representatives fo Batavia Downs and COR Development about parking and traffic and he said both are willing to work with him. He said he plans to have the venue entrance behind the Waggin Wheel, along the property line with Batavia Towne Center. A special use permit is required and a public hearing was set for June 21, by which time the board expects Banfield to have more details worked out.
  • The board approved a site plan review for Alpina Foods, which is planning a 3,360-square-foot expansion. No representatives of Alpina attended the meeting.
April 25, 2016 - 12:41pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in robbins nest, Le Roy, planning, land use, news.

Thwarted once, local businessman and developer Pete McQuillen is kicking the tires of an idea to revive his Robbins Nest housing neighborhood on the south end of the Village of Le Roy.

McQuillen started pursuing the project in about 2010, thought he had the necessary approvals to move forward, then a lawsuit forced him to go back to the village board for approval of the necessary zoning change.

At a September 2012 meeting, McQuillen learned that two village board members -- Bob Taylor and Mike Tucci -- would not vote on the resolution because they felt they had a conflict of interest.

Taylor's nephew is Steve Barbeau and Tucci worked for Tompkins Insurance under the supervision of David Boyce. Barbeau, the Town of Le Roy supervisor, and Boyce, were leads in the lawsuit against McQuillen.

The two men are neighbors in a neighborhood known as Presidential Acres, which abuts McQuillen's property he would like to convert into Robbins Nest.

At the time, McQuillen's plan was to build 26 homes on 13.1 acres east of Robbins Road and south of Fillmore Street, with prices ranging from $130,000 to $160,000, and sold as part of a planned community to seniors.

In order to move forward, he needed approval for a Planned Unit Development (PUD), which requires a zoning change, which requires approvals from the Zoning Board of Appeals (then a joint agency of the town and the village), the village board and the County Planning Board.

He got all of those approvals once, but then the lawsuit voided the village vote and without Taylor and Tucci willing to say yes or no, the board couldn't proceed and McQuillen had to drop his plan.

Now Tucci is off the board, so at a meeting April 13, McQuillen asked during public comments if he revived his plan, would the village board at least vote on it (he didn't ask whether they would approve it). Mayor Greg Rogers polled each board member and all said they would vote on it, if a proposal was brought to them.

Reached today, McQuillen said he is merely exploring the idea of reviving Robbins Nest at this time. Going to the village board was just the first step. He also wants to see how the county might respond.  

Rogers said he was surprised by McQuillen's request. Robbins Nest wasn't an item on the agenda. McQuillen just showed up and asked his question and that's all it was, Rogers said.

We reached out to Barbeau and Boyce for comment. We've yet to get a response from Barbeau; and Boyce declined to comment.

Boyce is one of several plaintiffs, all Presidential Acres residents, in another lawsuit with McQuillen as one of the defendants. The lawsuit is over several duplexes built on the west side of Presidential Acres, which the plaintiffs claim violates the subdivision plan. 

That lawsuit, filed in 2014, is scheduled to go to trial next week.

If you've read this far and the history of this development doesn't seem like enough of a twisted path yet, the history also includes Barbeau being arrested after an altercation with McQuillen over a barn McQuillen built close to Barbeau's property line. Also part of the history, Rogers took responsibility for allowing the village to pave a road owned by McQuillen at the time.

McQuillen said the next step for him to is to go the county to see what kind of response he might get, but County Planning Director Felipe A. Oltramari said there is nothing barring McQuillen from getting the paperwork started with the village. It would be up to the village to submit a request for consideration by the County Planning Board on the zoning change.

It isn't unusual for rejected or stalled proposals to come back up for reconsideration, Oltramari said.

"It often happens that applicants will come back a few months for few years later, depending on how political the issue was," Oltramari said.

UPDATE 8:56 p.m.: Earlier this evening, Steve Barbeau​ responded to our request for a comment.  Here is his statement: "There were and are numerous legal, practical, and ethical reasons why the property in question should not be rezoned."

April 15, 2016 - 12:40pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, corfu, Darien, Oakfield, land use, planning, news.

County planners expected a detailed discussion last night about a proposed Arby's restaurant at 8364 Lewiston Road, Town of Batavia, but the applicant withdrew the application earlier in the day.

County Planning Director Felipe Oltramari said he expects the proposal to come back to the planning board at a later date, perhaps as soon as the meeting next month.

There are a few variances needed for a 2,000-square-foot fast-food restaurant at the location, which is across from Kmart where a used car lot is now and next to Jerry Arena's Pizza.

The zoning code for the town requires a 40,000-square-foot lot for such an establishment, but the lot size at this location is only 29,664 square feet.

The builders are proposing parking spaces of 9x18 feet, instead of the required 10x20 feet.

The restaurant will also require three signs instead of the permitted two, with one being a bit larger than the sign ordinance allows.

The owner listed on planning documents is Bill Meland, with a business address of the current Arby's location on West Main Street in the City of Batavia.

In other matters brought to the board Thursday night:

  • The Chamber of Commerce received approval plans to remodel 8276 Park Road, Batavia, which will become the new headquarters for the chamber and the visitors' bureau once it's completed. The project includes a building addition, facade renovations, a new roof and a new accessible ramp.
  • Richard Mistretta is planning to open a record store at 220 E. Main St., Batavia, and received approval for his sign.
  • The Town of Batavia is planning to revise its zoning code to remove the requirement that certain properties in industrial parks be directly accessed from a state highway. The town has granted three variances in recent years and since there might be addition variance requests that would likely be granted, the town is seeking to remove the requirement altogether.
  • The Town of Alabama is extending its moratorium on commercial development for 12 months. This is the third extension sought by the town.
  • Daniel Miller and Padrna Kasthurirangan were approved for a windmill at 10021 Simonds Road, Corfu. The windmill will stand 121 feet tall.
  • The new Waggin (sic) Wheel Restaurant at 8282 Park Road, Batavia, was approved for outdoor cooking and a change to the commercial sign.
  • Suzanne Schultz received permission to hold craft classes at 57 Main St., Oakfield.

The county planning board is not the final word on application approvals. Their approvals are recommendations. Final decisions rest with the planning or zoning boards in each jurisdiction.

January 26, 2016 - 7:44am
posted by Howard B. Owens in business, batavia, land use, sign ordinance.

Businesses with digital signs should be able to change their message every 10 seconds, City Council President Eugene Jankowski suggested during Monday's council meeting.

He wants the city's Planning Board to review that suggested rule change and come back to the council with a recommendation. His fellow council members unanimously concurred.

The current ordinance is interpreted to prohibit a business from changing the message more than once every 24 hours.

Jeremy Liles, owner of Oliver's Candies, raised the issue with the city a couple of months ago after installing a new digital sign outside of his business at Main and Oak streets.

The suggested change, Jankowski said, is an important step toward supporting local businesses.

November 20, 2015 - 11:33am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Dunkin' Donuts, batavia, business, Redfield Parkway, land use.

It took the city's Zoning Board of Appeals more than 45 minutes Thursday to make motions, collect seconds and tally votes on five variances that clear the way for a new Dunkin' Donuts franchise on West Main Street, across from Redfield Parkway.

After a presentation by the project's engineer Kip Finley and comments from members of the public, all Redfield Parkway residents opposed to the project, it came time for the ZBA board to vote on the variance requests for parking, driveways, building placement and height.

Minutes would pass before a motion would be made, then a long pause before a second, and when the question was called, the votes came slow.

All of the variances were approved, but as Chairman Jeff Gillard confirmed later, the board wasn't really thrilled to be the final hurdle the developers need to clear to be able to proceed with the project.

"You can't go by emotion," Gillard said. "You've got to follow the law."

With no legal reason not to approve the variance requests, the board didn't have much recourse, even if they are sympathetic with the concerns of Redfield Parkway residents over potential traffic congestion in the area.

The traffic issues are not part of the ZBA's legal authority to consider.

On the fifth and final variance, allowing a 14-foot wide driveway to access the property from West Main, Board Member Emma Kate Morrill-Mahoney struggled with her vote. She's expressed concern that the angle still wouldn't prevent cars from trying to use it as an exit. The zoning code calls for a 20-foot wide driveway, but that width would probably make it even more likely that patrons would use it for an exit, causing traffic issues. So if Morrill-Mahoney voted no, causing disapproval of the variance on a tie vote, the driveway would have to be 20-foot. When she realized her vote would potentially only make matters worse, she decided to vote yes.  

The Redfield Parkway residents who spoke uniformly raised concerns about traffic congestion.

"What does Dunkin’ Donuts have against the better neighborhoods in Batavia?" asked Donald Fryling. "First they build at the end of Ellicott Avenue, now they want to build at Redfield. What’s next, a donut shop on Naramore Drive?"

A Dunkin' Donuts at this location, between Barrett's Marine & Sporting Supplies and Five Star Bank, was first proposed a year ago and that proposal was rejected by city planners. Finley met with city staff and fashioned a new proposal to address the concerns of the city and the residents. The building will be Cape Cod style in design to better match the homes in the area; it's frontage will align with Barrett's to be a little more urban and less suburban sprawl in feel; and the driveways will be narrower to better channel traffic in the directions that least hinder the flow of traffic.

All of these changes necessitated approvals for variances from the ZBA, and since they were good faith efforts by the developer to address concerns, the ZBA couldn't just arbitrarily reject them. 

Among the questions raised through the planning process is why Dunkin' Donuts in this location? Why not another location?

Franchisee Mike Mikolajczyk said it's simple, this location makes the most business sense.

"It's absolutely the best location we could have in the city," Mikolajczyk said.

There have been marketing studies and traffic flow studies and all of the data singles out this location as the best one currently available among all other options.

"It's a great intersection, a great area, that's why everybody wants to be there and that's why it's busy, and that's where Dunkin' goes, a busy area," Mikolajczyk said.

Finley said the next step in the process is completing the architectural drawings and completing the purchase of the property.  The earliest the new shop could be open is prior to Christmas 2016.

Since a donut shop isn't a destination type of business, but a business that captures existing traffic, it's important to be where the traffic is, Mikolajczyk explained, and since it's not a destination, it won't add to traffic congestion, as some neighbors fear.

"I've visited with people in the neighborhood and they all have my phone number," Mikolajczyk said. "I don't' want to be a bad neighbor. I don't want to have people hate me before I even get in there, so I'm doing my best to be a good neighor and be a good businessman and asset to the neighborhood."

One reason the location is important to Mikolajczyk is that his current location -- on the corner of Ellicott Avenue and West Main -- does a great job of capturing eastbound traffic. It doesn't capture a lot of westbound traffic, and the new location will do that, he said.

Asked why this location instead of something on East Main, and Mikolajczyk kind of smiled. That may be coming, too, he said.

November 18, 2015 - 7:43pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Dunkin' Donuts, batavia, business, land use.

The process of getting approval for a new Dunkin' Donut's has served to make for a better plan, project engineer Kip Finley told city planners during Tuesday's meetings, where planners eventually approved or recommended approval of a series of plans and variances allowing the project to go forward. 

The proposed Dunkin will be slipped in between Barrett's Batavia Marine and Five Star Bank on West Main Street, with the cooperation and blessing of those two property owners. The three properties will share driveways in and out of the location, helping traffic flow and thereby addressing one of the recurring objections to construction of the franchise store.

Finley, working on behalf of Dunkin' Donuts and franchisee Mike Mikolajczyk, who owns the current Dunkin' in the city, at West Main and Ellicott Avenue, has been hauling elevation drawings before city and county planners since September 2014, and until Tuesday's votes hadn't received much in the way of nods of approval.

The new design fits into the current environment better, Finley said.  The building will be a little more residential looking and the frontage will align with Barrett's, making it more of an urban approach to aligning storefronts.

Even so, there are still residents from nearby Redfield Parkway who object to the proposed location.

"Regardless of how good the aesthetics of the building, none of the design changes will improve its location," said Nan Zorn, a Redfield resident.

The planning committee approved the site plan review and recommend to the Zoning Board of Appeals that it approve variances for the frontage, the driveways and parking.

By code, the size of the building would require 80 parking spaces, which board members agreed was a bit much.

The Burger King on West Main has 80 spaces and Finley pointed out that is way more than the drive-thru restaurant needs.

"If you go there, the front third are used, and the rest you could play basketball on," Finley said.
"There are weeds growing. It doesn't get used."

Finley's work is not done. Dunkin's new location doesn't get built if the city's ZBA doesn't approve the variances.

August 19, 2015 - 7:11pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in SunEdison, SolarCity, solar engery, NY-Sun, batavia, land use, agriculture.

Members of the Town of Batavia Planning Board responded coolly to a proposed solar farm off of Bank Street Road at its monthly meeting Tuesday night.

Buffalo-based attorney Gregory P. Scholand, representing SunEdison, outlined the company's plan for 15 acres that are currently cultivated for peas.

The farm would produce two megawatts of electricity, which is enough energy for about 20 300 homes. (CORRECTION)

Scholand told board members he had to be honest -- the solar farm won't create jobs and any increase in assessed value, which means more tax revenue, will be delayed by state-backed incentives for solar installations.

"In other words," said Board Member Lou Paganello, "the only people who will benefit are the landowner, National Grid and SunEdison."

Paganello was one of the most vocal members of the board expressing concerns about the proposal, but he also said he was intrigued by it and doesn't want to just kill the idea without learning more.

He also suggested the town needs to develop a plan for dealing with solar farms since this is unlikely to be the last proposal the town is asked to consider.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is trying to push New York toward a stronger solar future. He's committed $1 billion to NY-Sun with the goal of eventually generating three gigawatts of electricity from sunlight across the state. That would be the equivalent of taking 23,000 cars off the road. According to the project's Web site, that much installed capacity will make the solar industry self-sufficient in New York and subsidies will no longer be needed.

The initiative is the reason SolarCity, a company owned primarily by technology multi-billionaire Elon Musk, is building a manufacturing plant in Buffalo that is expected to create 1,460 jobs. 

Solar is coming on strong nationally, both because of the investments of Musk -- a hard-charging entrepreneur who made his initial fortune with two Internet startups, including PayPal, and who is also responsible for the all-electric Tesla luxury sports car and the Space X program -- and because China flooded the market a couple of years ago with inexpensive solar panels.

That, and greater efficiencies in installation and substantial tax breaks and government subsidies have helped reduce costs for power companies, businesses and homeowners.

It doesn't matter, though, to local planning boards that are being asked to back projects that potentially divert productive land to massive complexes of metal and glass.

In Genesee County, of course, that other productive use is farming, the kind of farming that produces grains, vegetables and milk. How much soil does the local area want to convert to solar panels?

"You open the door for one farm to do this then everyone is going to want to do it," said Board Member Jonathan Long.

Board members seemed unanimous in sharing this concern.

The proposition, put forward by Scholand, that solar farms help reduce an area's carbon footprint, was countered by Long.

"Peas are already taking a lot of carbon out of the air," he said.

The town needs a plan for dealing with solar and Scholand agreed. He said SunEdison fully supports local jurisdictions developing local ordinances to govern solar installations. 

SunEdison hasn't made a formal application yet, but when it does, the Planning Board will be asked to become the lead agency for the environmental review process.

Chairwoman Kathy Jasinski expressed some doubt about the board's willingness to take on that role when its members still know too little about solar energy, the impacts of such farms, how they might affect neighboring property owners and what the benefits might be for local residents. The board needs a quick education in these subjects, Jasinski suggested.

If the Town of Batavia was to reject the proposal, it would be the second time this year that a local government body turned down a solar farm in the county.

In January, SolarCity approached the County about building a solar farm next to County Building #2, but concerns about the viability of SolarCity, whether the subsidies that would help the county save $500,000 and what might eventually become of the infrastructure, led the Ways and Means Committee to reject the proposal.

Meanwhile, solar companies have started pitching subsidized solar installations to local residents. One company had a booth at Summer in the City.

June 12, 2015 - 2:46pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Pavilion, batavia, land use, planning, O-AT-KA Milk Products, business.

A proposed expansion of the O-AT-KA Milk Products plant at Cedar Street and Ellicott Street Road, Batavia, received a vote of approval from the County Planning Board on Thursday night.

O-AT-KA is contemplating adding a 194,543-square-foot building and a 35,279-square-foot building that will serve as warehouse space and a distribution center.

A spokesman for O-AT-KA repeated several times to reporters last night that the expansion remains a proposal at this time. There's no information available on how O-AT-KA's business might be expanding as a result of the new space.

The location of the new structures would be on the east side of the plant with vehicle access off of Ellicott Street Road.

The board recommended approval of a site plan review with recommended modifications for a stormwater pollution-prevention plan prior to final approval by the city.

Also on Thursday:

The board recommended approval of a site plan review for a 1,620-square-foot addition to the Pavilion Public Library. The expansion, which will include a new children's wing, is funded in part by a $200,000 donation from Edgar Mary Louis Hollwedel. Deborah Davis said the library is also seeking a state grant. The size of that grant could exceed $200,000.

The board recommended disapproval of a zoning map change on South Lake Road in Pavilion. Superior Plus Energy Services was seeking the change to develop a bulk storage and truck distribution center for bulk propane. The 32-acre site is currently zoned agriculture-residential and Superior Plus Energy is seeking a change to industrial. Staff's recommendation was for disapproval because the change would be inconsistent with the town's comprehensive plan and the Future Land Use Map, which plans for agriculture use or residential with minimum lot sizes of five acres.

A planned Dollar General store in Pavilion received recommended approval for its sign. The sign design presented previously by Moeller Sign Co. wasn't approved because it would have meant a sign larger than currently allowed in the zoning code. The new design complies with the code.

May 15, 2015 - 10:35am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, zoning, land use, business.

gcplanningboardmay142015-5.jpg

Any city residents who are concerned about rooming houses opening in their neighborhoods need not worry much longer.

The city is working on a change to the zoning law that would prohibit new rooming houses, boarding houses, lodging houses, tourist homes and tourist camps inside of R-2 districts.

The change would also prohibit future development of such facilities in C-1, C-2 and C-3 districts. 

There are currently 10 rooming houses in the city with a total of 80 available rooms.

"At this point, we think we're saturated with an adequate amount of rooming houses and boarding houses in the city and this provides the ability to limit expansion," said City Manager Jason Molino. "The existing ones will continue to stay in place. They will continue to be regulated and reviewed and permitted every year, as they should be, but this will limit the expansion."

Molino presented the proposed change to the zoning ordinance to the Genesee County Planning Board, just one step in the process of making the change in the zoning law. The board unanimously recommended approval of the proposal.

The current codes governing rooming and boarding houses and multiple-family dwellings in the city are inconsistent with the city's master plan and strategic plan, Molino told the board.

Numerous studies, he said, have shown that rooming houses, in particular, and multi-family dwellings, intermingled in otherwise single-family neighborhoods, bring down property values and encourage the deterioration of whole blocks.

Such uses are also inconsistent with economic development in commercial districts.

This is an issue the city has been looking at for some time, Molino said, but officials became more aware of the need to tighten up the code after local property owner and investor Terry Platt purchased a large home on East Main Street and announced plans to convert it into a rooming house. The city's planning board denied Platt his application for the use, responding to concerns raised by neighbors and other residents; however, Platt challenged the ruling court and eventually prevailed and was able to convert the property into a rooming house.

"That certainly opened everybody's eyes to the potential of where these rooming houses could be located," Molino said. "It has a lot of impact that people perceive as being negative if rooming houses open in certain areas, so that certainly opened our eyes to the inconsistencies in the code."

The proposed zoning change could be perceived as inconsistent with a couple of emerging trends in American society.

First, is the seeming interest of Millennials to avoid home ownership and find suitable places to rent in cities. The second is a trend among some homeowners to use services such as Airbnb to rent rooms to travelers.

On the first point, Molino said he doesn't think Millennials are looking for the kind of rentals this zoning change would curtail.

"They're looking for a little more secure housing, generally, furnished housing, not shared common bathrooms, in areas that are close to amenities and part of a development," Molino said. "There's a disparity in the housing qualities when you start talking about Millennials and the population of empty-nesters who are looking to downsize. They're generally not looking to downsize into rooming houses."

While services such as Airbnb are growing in popularity -- there are even two houses available for guest lodging in Genesee County -- it hasn't been an issue in the city yet, Molino said. The proposed zoning change isn't really meant to address such services, but if it ever became an issue here, Batavia, like any city, would need to study the issue and find the most balanced solution available.

"You've got to look at what comes with it," Molino said. "Are there negative effects? Are there positive effects? Is it similar to a bed and breakfast or not? What comes with that activity? I think what most communities will start dealing with is, what are the positive and negative effects that come with the activity and do they balance each other house, and if not, what revisions of code or enforcement mechanisms do they want to put in place to balance it out."

The proposed zoning change will need to be go through a public hearing and be approved by City Council before becoming law.

January 28, 2015 - 6:03pm

Millennials -- that generation born after 1980 but before the turn of the century -- came of age in a time of economic stagnation, fewer jobs, fewer chances for career advancement, lower pay.

Technology has ruled their lives.

They're getting married later in life, starting families later, and moving to smaller cities in droves.

Buffalo has attracted a 34-percent jump in recent college graduate residents, outpacing bigger cities such as Los Angeles.

All of these trends, and more, are attracting the attention of land use planners and informing a new way of looking at planning, said Felipe A. Oltramari, director of the the Genesee County Planning Department, during a presentation at City Hall this morning on the Millennial Generation.

There are 87 million people born in the Millennial decades, about 11 million more than were born during the Baby Boom years.

What they want out of life tends to be far different than Baby Boomers or even Gen-X.

To them, suburbs are dead.

A higher percentage of them than any previous generation have never had a driver's license. Often, they don't own cars.

They're more environmentally aware and socially connected through their digital devices.

The reason they're flocking to cities like Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Portland and Houston is they're more interested in deciding what lifestyle they want before deciding what job they will take, Oltramari said.

Sixty-four percent settle in a city before they get their first job offer.

"It's going to be a difficult job market any place you go, so you might as well go to someplace where you want to live," Oltramari said.

So why not go to New York City instead of Buffalo?

Because it costs a lot more to live in NYC than Buffalo.

So why come to Batavia instead of Buffalo?

Because, Oltramari said, eventually, as Buffalo attracts more Millennials, the cost of living will rise. Adjacent small cities such as Batavia can offer some of the same advantages of bigger cities, but at an affordable price.

Besides, Millennials are the coming economic driver, so Batavia should be planning to be the kind of community they want now; otherwise, we get left behind.

The planning model for this new urbanism is called "form based."

From the 1920s until recently, all planning was built around zoning codes -- what developers cannot do, not what a community wanted.

Planning zones were radically segregated, not just separating, say, residential from industrial, but apartments from houses, offices from retail space, artisans from factories.

Mix-use was a product of the organic growth of American cities in the 19th Century, but planners tried to stamp it out in the 20th Century.

In the post-War years, as suburbs grew and highways were built to accommodate the booming auto industry, planners replaced dense city blocks with strip malls and paved over culturally diverse neighborhoods.

Batavia, with its white elephant of a mall and Urban Renewal conformity, is an example of a city that lost its soul to parking lots and drive-thru restaurants.

"What planners tried to do was try to make our cities more like suburbs, and what did we get? Very bad suburbs," Oltramari said.

Form-based codes allow cities to set a vision for what they want to be.  

"Conventional planning looks at use, not at form," said Derik Kane, a senior planner for the county, and himself of the Millennial Generation. "In looking at use, you eliminated things you might want, such as small artisans when you moved out the industry, things like that that make an economy and a community. With form-based codes, instead of eliminating things you don't want, you say what you do want."

For developers, new construction and renovation of existing structures becomes a more streamlined process.  

A community with form-based codes doesn't need to require a developer to go through the current lengthy and expensive environmental review process, Oltramari said, because a conforming proposal will already fit within those environmental requirements.

"We need to be moving at the speed of business," said Chris Suozzi, VP of business development for Genesee County Economic Development Center. "Developers don't want delays."

The City Council has already approved funding for a new master plan for Batavia and City Manager Jason Molino said form-based codes will certainly be part of the discussion as the process moves forward.

Urban Renewal did a lot of damage to Downtown Batavia, but there are still positive aspects that can be enhanced.

Kane pointed out that experts in new urbanism recommend you build on successes, rather than trying to fix problems.

For Batavia, that success would center around Jackson Square, especially Jackson Street.

Oltramari suggested borrowing a page from a small Massachusetts city and building over a portion of the parking lot on the west side of Jackson Street and putting up a row of single-story, small retail shops.

Millennials want walkable communities -- remember, they often don't have cars -- which means density, and more retail on Jackson would give them what they want.

County planning is planning on bringing in a walkability expert this summer to study Batavia, but online resources such as WalkScore.com already give Batavia low marks.

On a scale that counts 80 as pretty good, very little of Batavia scores higher than 70 (my house, three blocks south of Downtown Jackson Street, scores 67).  

Greater density and more options downtown would help improve those scores, which Millennials look at when deciding where to live.

One issue planners might wrestle with is Baby Boomers still have an auto-oriented mindset. They demand parking. They expect to park right in front of the store they wish to enter. Any proposal to eliminate parking downtown is going to meet resistance, even as data shows it's not necessary.

People will park and walk, or just walk from their residence, if it's an interesting walk, Oltramari said. 

"Nobody wants to park on the far edge of the Walmart parking and walk to the store, because it's not interesting," Oltramari said. "But if you measure it, they probably walk at least twice that distance once they get inside the store."

People will walk for blocks and blocks at Disneyland, he noted, and then come home and complain if they can't find a convenient parking place downtown.

For Millennials, if they're living and working in a neighborhood they like, parking simply isn't an issue.

"The good news is, we know how to build this way," Kane said. "We built this way for centuries.  Your villages, your main steets, are all walkable places."

Copies of the slides used in Oltramari's presentation along with related material can be found on the Web page for the county planning department.

December 12, 2014 - 7:45am
posted by Howard B. Owens in business, Pavilion, planning, land use.

Dollar General would like to build a new store in Pavilion, but the proposal got a cold reception from the Genesee County Planning Board on Thursday night.

The proposed location is less than 1,000 feet from the high school, and with heavy, speedy truck traffic on Route 63 and no sidewalks between the school and the store, board members thought the location presents a safety hazard.

Planners also thought the proposal doesn't fit within Pavilion's comprehensive plan.

However, the location is the one picked by town officials, Todd Hamula, a development manager for Zeremba Group, who is representing Dollar General in the project.

Originally, the company was looking at a location closer to the school, but town officials were worried about students leaving campus to go to the store, so a compromise was found with the location further away.

The location also gives the town a chance to appeal to the Department of Transportation to lower the speed limit along that stretch of road to 35 mph (the location is right near the current dividing line between a 35 mph zone and 55 mph zone).  

Hamula said Dollar General wants its stores on roads with speed limits less than 55 mph, which ruled out locations further south.

He also said the company picked the location because they believe it's well suited to the comprehensive plan. He said rezoning the property would merely extend the current business district area around Route 63 and Route 19.  

Planners thought it too far away from the current business area to meet that goal.

"We work really hard to make sure we don't bring a proposal for rezoning unless we have local support and that it doesn't go against the comprehensive plan," Hamula said.

While the town seems to take a dim view of a store within walking distance of the school, county planners were scratching their heads over the decision. The original proposed location would have sidewalks and a pedestrian tunnel nearby.

"If the concern here is traffic and kids walking, moving the location does not really solve that," said Board Member Lucine Kauffman. "I think it makes the danger even greater. Now they're walking further and there's no sidewalks."

She thinks regardless of the location, kids are going to walk to it for drinks and food.

"I think it's great idea to have place where kids can walk to after school to have a snack," Kauffman said.

The negative vote doesn't kill the project. The town planning board can still approve it with a vote of a majority plus one.

Hamula said he will pursue that outcome with the town planning board.

October 10, 2014 - 9:45am
posted by Howard B. Owens in business, Bethany, land use.

It ain't nothin' but a party, Frank Stanton told the Genesee County Planning Board on Thursday evening in his second attempt to win approval for a special-use permit to host mudding events on his seven-acre property in Bethany.

"This is not a business," Stanton said. "It's a party. It's just a bunch of people getting together and having fun. That's all it is."

Planners recommended disapproval of his permit and didn't offer much encouragement for him to try again.

After a meeting two weeks ago, where planners were much more receptive to his proposal but told Stanton he needed a more formal plan before they could approve it, a pair of nearby Bethany residents wrote the planning board and raised objections to these mudding events.

Robert Reyes and Elaine Shell contend Stanton operates his mudding events as a business.

There's a Facebook page with 700 likes. The events are listed on at least two mudding event Web sites. They suggest it's not just friends showing up to run their trucks in the mud.

"Whether it's a trick of acoustics, with him being in a 'dip', we don't know, but the noise level at and in our home is awful," the couple wrote. "Most of the trucks running are modified with high revving engines, have no mufflers, and are extremely loud."

While Stanton tried to assure planners that there are never more than a couple hundred people at a time on his property at 9832 Bethany Center Road, Reyes and Shell argued that as many as 400 people might be on the property at one time and are concerned that Stanton wants the events to grow even bigger.

Stanton said they can't get any bigger because he'll never be able to buy adjoining property since it's currently owned by a large and successful dairy operation. He said he doesn't make any money off the events. There are no prizes, no awards, nothing that would make these commercial events.

"This will probably fizzle out in five or six years as my kids get bigger and things change," Stanton said.

The vote recommending disapproval was 6-0.

September 17, 2014 - 9:15am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, land use, Big Tree Glen.

There's a very simple reason Rochester-based Conifer wants to build a middle-income apartment complex in Batavia now, John F. Caruso told the town's planning board Tuesday night.

"Batavia's hot," said the president of Passero Associates Engineering Architecture.

"It's hot," he said, "because of your smart growth plans, your STAMP Project, yogurt plants, lots of job growth. I'm happy we're the first to get in, but there will be more. Mark my words, this is a very good area."

Caruso made his remarks during a public hearing for Big Tree Glen, a 136-unit complex proposed for West Main Street Road that Conifer wants to build in three phases.

The Genesee County Planning Board disapproved the plan Thursday night, which means in order for the town's planning board to give it the nod, the vote will need to be a majority-plus-one.

Tuesday night, developers gave their presentation to the town's planning board and local residents -- including several in opposition -- shared their thoughts on the project.

The board won't take action on the proposal until its next meeting Sept. 30.

Caruso and Andrew Crossed, a VP with Conifer Realty, gave a very detailed presentation about the proposed complex, which Crossed called a "flagship design" for Conifer. The same basic concept has been built in several other New York communities, as well as in other states.

The project would be built in three phases with the first phase containing 56 units.

There would be one bedroom, two bedroom and three bedroom apartments, with monthly rents of $592, $717 and $900.

The market for the apartments are households with annual incomes of $25,000 to $45,000.

There would be no HUD, Section 8 or other rent subsidized apartments. Tenants would go through a thorough screening process, including a background check, income verification and reference check and would be required to sign leases that would clearly spell out residential expectations.

There would be two employees of Conifer on site full-time -- a residential manager and a residential maintenance supervisor.

"What we build, we own," Crossed said. "What we own, we manage."

All infrastructure -- roads, water and sewer -- would be owned and maintained by Conifer, meaning no expense for the town.

The property would generate about $75,000 local property tax.

While Conifer will apply for a state grant to help finance construction of each phase, it's a competitive process and Conifer goes into the project knowing they may not win. Either way, Conifer is not seeking any local tax abatements though the Genesee County Economic Development Center.

The complex would include a clubhouse, which would contain the manager's office, community kitchen, fitness center and laundry.

Each unit would have its own storage unit.

"You won't see storage on patios like you do in some places," Caruso said.

Caruso said Conifer uses quality construction material and the design offers a variety of features and colors to add variety and avoid a cookie-cutter appearance.

The final plan will include a bus loop for school buses and possibly local mass transit.

There will be a total of 53 percent green space surrounding the apartments.

"We usually don't skimp on landscaping," Caruso said. "Landscaping really shows the project well when the project is constructed."

One local landlord who attended the meeting said afterward he supports the project.

"Batavia needs this," he said. "I get people in my office every day looking for something like this and it just doesn't exist."

The residents who live near the proposed development area were less pleased with the project.

The main objection from the six or so opponents was the increased potential for flooding and a belief that Route 5 already has too much traffic on it.

Larry Regal, who lives on the south side of West Main, next to the Tonawanda Creek, said there is a small drainage area that connects to the creek and when the water rises on the Tonawanda, the north side where the project is located floods.

He wonders where that water will go if the development is built and whether that will make his property more susceptible to flooding.

Other speakers shared that concern.

They also complained that it can be hard now to pull out onto Route 5 safely with the current traffic volume.

Caruso had said during his presentation that traffic studies show the two-lane road has a lot of available capacity for traffic.

The town has recently installed new sewer lines along Route 5 with the idea of attracting development to the area.

The area is zoned commercial and a variance would be required for apartments, but Caruso said apartments with no more than 80 cars per hour at peak times would generate less Route 5 traffic than just about any possible commercial development in the same location.

September 12, 2014 - 11:32am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Bethany, land use.

Frank and Jamie Stanton want to host truck mud bog races and truck mud tug-of-wars on their seven-acre property in Bethany.

County Planning Board members said they think it's a great idea.

"It sounds like a lot of fun," one board member said.

But the Stantons need to write up a more detailed plan to get a special use permit.

"It's not just to protect the town, but to protect you," said Board Member Lucine Kauffman.

A site use plan should detail all of the activities and uses, so if some future neighbor complains, code enforcement can just pull the plan and tell whether the use was approved or not.

That includes amplified, recorded music, which is part of Stanton's plan.

While the board recommended disapproval of the special use permit, board members emphatically urged Frank Stanton to return with a detailed plan.

For this application, Stanton's plan consisted of a single sheet of a handwritten description of what he plans to do.

Stanton said no more than 300 people turn up to the events, in no more than 50 vehicles, and activities start around 11 a.m. and end at dark.

"They have to," Stanton said. "Mud trucks don't have lights."

There will be two events per month from April through October.

Stanton will also need DEC permits for water drainage.

The property is located at 9832 Bethany Center Road.

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