The next phase in seeking approval for a 1,200-acre high-tech industrial complex in the Town of Alabama is to sell it to the town board.
And by sell, we mean, offer incentives attractive enough to please residents and for the board to approve a change in zoning for the land that Genesee Economic Devlopment Center officials hope to turn into a lucrative and bustling complex employing 9,300 people.
Mark Masse, VP of operations for GCEDC, said negotiations are starting on the incentive package with the town and they will include financial assistance with the needs of the town to accommodate the project as well as possible cash grants for a "community chest" (money that can be spent on whatever the town board decides to spend it on).
Information on the final Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement for the project known as STAMP (Science Technology and Advanced Manufacturing Park) was presented Thursday night to about 100 area residents at the Alabama Fire Hall.
With the GEIS done, the town board will be given an opportunity wthin the next month or so to either green light the project or not.
Prior to the vote, GCEDC officials will try to come up with a package of incentives that might help sway town residents and the board to support the project.
Once the incentives are hammered out, there will be a public meeting where the package will be presented and the public will be given a chance to comment on the proposal.
Attorney Adam S. Walters (top inset photo), representing GCEDC, said if the town board doesn't approve the zoning change for STAMP, the project is dead.
One audience member pressed Walters on whether GCEDC or anybody else could sue the town if it doesn't change the zoning to GCEDC's liking. Walters said he knew of no legal grounds to support such a suit and the town's attorney, Mark Boylan, nodded in agreement.
The time is ripe, according to Masse for the town to approve the project. He indicated there is a company that is looking to build a million-square-foot high-tech manufacturing facility. The company will be ready to start its site selection process in 2014.
Asked if it was a foreign company, Masse said, "It's American."
No company, especially one looking at building a million-square-foot facility, will even consider a site that doesn't already have zoning approval, Masse said, since such approvals take so long to get.
Earlier, town Planning Board Member Lorna Klotzbach (inset photo below) expressed concern that, the way the plan is written out, the entire 1,200 acres could just fill up with a lot of small companies.
"If this site is allowed to be gobbled up by a database company here, a retail store there, a warehouse over here -- what's the chance that a big anchor company is going to want to come in if all of these other uses take up all the space?" Klotzbach asked.
Walters said that, as a practical matter, that isn't going to happen.
The big anchor tenant is needed first so the infrastructure can be built to support all of the smaller tenants that will help fill out the park and provide support services to the large tenants.
"The concept is to form the park around high tech manufacturing," Walters said. "That's the goal of this project and to do it in a way that makes sense. What keeps a Tim Horton's or a couple of warehouses from coming in first is the dollars necessary for the infrastructure. The smaller projects can't afford it.
"The plan calls for a million-square-feet high-tech manufacturer in phase one," Walters added. "If you don't have that, you don't have the money to put in the infrastructure to make any of the other stuff happen."
Until then, Masse and Walters explained, the arable land within the park's proposed footprint will still be farmed and the people living in houses will still live in their houses.
In fact, soon-to-be-former Village of Oakfield resident Joseph Bradt (bottom inset photo) expressed a unique concern about what will happen to residents living within the STAMP area.
Bradt said he recently bought a home in Alabama in order to move his family out of the village.
Pointing at the site plan on the projector screen, Bradt said, "My house is off the map and I haven’t even moved in yet."
Masse said that until a portion of the park is needed for a new tenant, no offers to buy out residential homes will be made, and when they are made, the offers will be at fair market value or or just above assessed value.
Ask if eminent domain would be used to remove people from their homes if they didn't want to sell, Masse said, "no."
"If you don't want to sell you're property, we'll figure out how design around it or if we can move the project to another part of the park," Masse said.
As for Brandt, Masse said it could be up to 20 years before it's time to try and buy him out of his house.
The final GEIS addresses at least some of the concerns raised by residents over the past couple of years.
Regarding the John White Wildlife Management Area, that's been completely removed from the site plan and won't be developed.
Regarding lost agricultural land, the crop land that will displaced represents only .65 percent of the 148,584 acres of farmland in Genesee County and only .23 percent of the total prime farmland.
There are also at least 17 possible farm-protection strategies for the town board to consider to protect the remaining farmland. Some of them, according to Walters, are very expensive. Some, such as rezoning, cost nothing.
On wetlands mitigation, the footprint of the building space was reconfigured to protect more of the wetlands within the park. One of the early plans would have destroyed 69 of 106 acres of wetlands within the park area. The new plan protects all but 10 acres of the land.
The acres protected will be enhanced and restored.
"Many of those wetlands are not in great shape today, and without this project, they would be subject to further degradation," said Roger Person, the consultant heading up the environmental review process.
The report also deals with impacts on the Tonawanda Indian Reservation and traffic flow.
Officials are working with representatives of Tonawanda to minimize impacts and while traffic will increase in areas, some of the proposed improvements to roadways and intersections will bring relief to some traffic flow problems already present in Alabama, Person said.
When a member of the public expressed concern that if the zoning change were approved, what would stop developers from doing something different than what residents are being told now would happen?
Walters explained that the way the process works, the final GEIS acts as a box. The box contains everything that is currently permissible within the STAMP project area.
"If a proposal comes along that doesn’t fit inside that box, it requires a supplemental analysis and perhaps a supplemental environmental impact study," Walters said. "Everything has to fit within the box."