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comprehensive plan

August 15, 2017 - 1:34pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in comprehensive plan, batavia, planning, news.

Nearly two years in the making, a draft of a new comprehensive plan for Batavia has been presented to the City Council and soon it will be up to council members to decide what kind of future they want for the city.

One that maintains the status quo or one that aims to improve the quality of life for residents and attract new businesses.

"I think you’ll find that, yes, some communities are losing population," City Manager Jason Molino said after the draft plan was presented to the council. "They're not growing at great rates, but I think you’ll see that the communities that are well planned, and have good comprehensive plans that are practical, you’re going to see those communities are growing. They’re growing exponentially. They’re growing a lot faster than those who don’t (have comprehensive plans). I would argue that good planning leads to smart choices and that leads to positive outcomes.

"If we want to be mediocre forever then maybe we don’t do the comprehensive plan," Molino added. "If we want to achieve more, we take a community-based approach to it and you make smart choices in the future to trigger growth in the future."

Consultant Rob Holzman made the initial presentation of the plan. He reviewed the history of the process, which began in October 2015 and included the formation of a steering committee, interviews, focus groups, surveys and two community open houses where community members were invited in to share their vision for the future of the City of Batavia.

"This plan sets up a strong foundation for moving forward and understand what some of the basic investments are that are necessary to attract a younger population as well as a senior population," Holzman said.

Among the findings of the research that underlies the plan is that Batavia is seeing a decline in home ownership and a startling rise in rental occupancy.

"These are two characteristics that are worth noting because they’re really a driving impetus behind why you want this comprehensive planning process," Holzman said. "It's to figure out what’s going on and how some of these trends might be reversed."

The city is also overstocked in industrially zoned property. Industrial is the second highest acreage in the city of 14 types of zoning in Batavia, at 682 acres but only 169 acres are actually being used for industrial activity.

The plan suggests, Holzman said, that the city can direct more industrial uses in the area of the Harvester Center and the Pearl Street industrial park, both with significant vacancies, and rezone an area such as the east end of East Main Street.

The 70 to 90 properties in that area, with the exception of a cement company, are all commercial and residential, Holzman noted.

"It is a key gateway coming into the city," Holzman said. "It sets a tone for what to expect and having industrially zoned properties there might not be the best use of that transportation corridor."

Among the other suggestions for the Batavia of the future is the development of a complete street policy, which would include bike paths, bike racks at public facilities, signs providing distance and direction for destinations (wayfinding signage), and bus shelters that are attractive and may contain public art.

"Bus shelters might sound like a basic thing, and it is a basic thing, but it’s a necessary component to add to the vitality of a place," Holzman said.

The plan also suggests developing a tree management plan, a plan for parks and recreation, a plan to celebrate the city's history and its public spaces.

The plan also calls for changing the city's zoning code from the more highly regulated current form to what's known as "form-based" code, which more loosely defines appropriate uses for sections of the city.

When it came time for the council and the public to weigh in, there were some objections.

Councilwoman Kathy Briggs (later joined by community member John Roach) suggested that any suggestion that the east end of East Main Street be rezoned be removed from the plan. He insisted that the council already voted 6-3 against changing the zoning, therefore, it shouldn't be brought up again.

Molino explained that at this stage, the comprehensive plan is a roadmap. Implementation of actual zoning changes would come up later. Further, he noted, the council's previous vote was just on two parcels in the 70- to 90-acre area under consideration.  

Roach suggested the proposal was just a backdoor way to bring in the tax-exempt, subsidized housing for disabled people proposed by DePaul earlier this year.

Councilman Bob Bialkowski objected to the idea of form-based code because, based on his research, he said, back before current zoning was created, something like form-based zoning was used and it only benefitted the well-heeled and politically connected.

Holzman tried to explain that form based means something entirely different today and that what the comprehensive plan proposes is really a mix of formed based structure and traditional zoning.

Councilman Adam Tabelski said he was concerned (a concern shared by other speakers) that the Tonawanda Creek is barely mentioned in the plan, even though it represents a potential resource for the city.

Molino said specific proposals for what might happen along the creek would fit into the city's strategic planning process, which he also spoke about and how it might change with a new comprehensive plan.

He provided the council with a document that he said would help officials and staff better prioritize projects, especially when new ideas come along.

"One thing when we began to develop this process, we realized that as new opportunities come along there has to be a very disciplined process to evaluate those," Molino said. "We have to decide whether it not happen, be put off, changed, or if more resources have to be put on the table to deal with them."

February 28, 2017 - 3:33pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, planning, news, comprehensive plan.

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The City is hosting a comprehensive plan open house from now until 7 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall.

The open house consists of multiple stations that ask residents and business owners for their thoughts and ideas about the future of Batavia.

The feedback will be used in drafting the city's new comprehensive plan.

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December 21, 2016 - 9:49pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, town of batavia, comprehensive plan.

A Town of Batavia property owner told the municipality's Town Board on Wednesday night that he thinks the current version of its Comprehensive Plan Update contains rules and regulations that would prevent future development of his land.

"The plan is very restrictive," said Bruce Newton, owner of property next to the Tonawanda Creek near the Willow Bend Inn on West Main Street Road. "My dream (of expansion) is somewhat ... it has squelched my dream, and I feel that the value of the land will go down as well."

Speaking at a public hearing on the Comprehensive Plan Update, Newton said that the first draft of the plan makes it "virtually impossible" for him to build a house or do anything on the land that is zoned for commercial use.

"The regulations that are in place are on the depth of federal and state levels, restricting expansion opportunities," he said. "If I have to refer to your map, there is not a lot of wiggle room."

The Comprehensive Plan governs decisions on zoning, capital improvements and budgeting, addressing key issues such as land use, natural resources, agriculture and farmland, parks and recreation, housing, economic development, transportation and government services. It last was updated about seven years ago.

Newton asked if the town is expecting massive expansion in the area, to which Supervisor Gregory Post replied that they have seen a 100-percent increase in building permits over the past decade, and that projections call for "2,000 to 30,000 jobs over the next 10 years."

"A guide (to development and its impact on the environment) is needed," Post said. "I don't know if the Comprehensive Plan will prevent anybody (from building), but it gives the town the opportunity to help you through the process, and get a feel of what you can invest in."

Newton mentioned that his land is zoned for commercial use now, adding that "it would be quite a 180 to go from zoned commercial to a green area for parks and recreation."

Barbara Johnston of LaBella Associates Inc., a Rochester engineering, planning and consulting firm that has been assisting the town in this project, said the town is proposing an "overlay district" -- which does not affect the zoning but does add to the regulations.

It is not a deal-breaker for potential development, she said, unless the land is part of a wetland or in a flood zone where the Department of Environmental Conservation or Federal Emergency Management Agency would get involved.

"The DEC is your biggest worry," she said.

Newton asked if those updating the plan were basing their ideas off another plan in New York State or if they were "flying by the seat of their pants?"

Sheila Hess of CC Environment & Planning, of East Bethany, who also is assisting the town, said it is a science-based plan taking many elements found in an Ulster County pilot program and the Green Infrastructure Network, with a goal of marrying the town's natural resources with development to "sustain the overall quality of the town."

Johnston added that the Town of Batavia plan is "less strict than many models we have looked at, and is locally developed, which is better than one-size-fits-all."

Newton's father, George, suggested that the town should consider the Tonawanda Creek as an asset worth developing around.

"It should be greater than it is today," he said. "People who live around the river (creek) are not contaminating it. It's what's being pumped into it."

Earlier, Paul Kulczyk, a West Main Street Road resident for the past 25 years, said he wondered how areas of potential development near areas of natural resources as depicted on a Green Action Plan map "could sustain themselves wiithin such close proximity of each other."

Both Johnston and Hess acknowledged that these future residential areas would be subject to "special review" by the Town Board and Town Planning Board before any final determination could be made.

At the end of the 45-minute session, Post said the Town Board will review all comments and come up with a revised draft -- which likely will add the fiscal impact of development -- to present at another public meeting. He said he hopes to complete the process by early spring.

In other developments, the Town Board:

-- Approved shared services agreements with the towns of Pavilion and Alexander for code enforcement next year at a cost of $15,000 and $10,500, respectively, to those municipalities, and a similar agreement with the Town of Stafford for financial clerk services in 2017 that stipulates payment of $16,000 from the Town of Stafford.

-- Learned that Batavia Town Fire Chief Paul Barrett will be stepping down at the end of the year, and will be replaced by Deputy Chief Daniel Coffey, who is a sergeant on the City of Batavia police force. Barrett said he will continue on the department's board of directors.

In a related move, the board OK'd a contract with the Town of Batavia Fire Department for 2017 that calls for the town to pay $916,858 in 2017 for fire protection services within the established district.

-- Appointed Andrew Meier as town attorney for 2017 at the rate of $195 per hour and Theron Howard as town prosecutor for 2017 at an all-inclusive salary of $675 per week. Meier and Howard will be replacing Kevin Earl, who has accepted the position of Genesee County attorney.

December 7, 2016 - 10:33pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, town of batavia, comprehensive plan.

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Updating the Town of Batavia’s Comprehensive Plan that will guide its decisions on zoning, capital improvements and budgeting has turned into a balancing act – a lengthy process that pits the desire to promote commercial development against the need to protect its valuable natural resources.

That was the viewpoint of Town Engineer Steven Mountain as he spoke to about 25 people who attended a public informational meeting on Wednesday night at Town Hall on West Main Street Road.

Mountain, responding to an impassioned plea by town resident Mary Martha Webster to keep the “rural” feel of the community, said town officials – in conjunction with independent environmental planners – are “trying to take a harder look at that (preserving natural resources and the land).”

“The development pressure is there; we’re trying to balance it,” Mountain said. “This is really the first time we’ve taken that approach.”

Webster apparently took exception to a segment of the presentation by Barbara Johnston of LaBella Associates Inc., a Rochester engineering, planning and consulting firm, who has been assisting the Town in its Comprehensive Plan update and with the Green Genesee/Smart Genesee initiative – the latter a grant-funded scientific approach that connects the natural environment and business growth.

“All I have heard is development, development. I moved to a rural area. This is not what I want, this is what you want, Greg,” Webster said, directing her comments to Town Supervisor Gregory Post. “You’re making the Town of Batavia into the City of Batavia.”

Following Mountain’s response, Johnston added that the team charged with updating the Comprehensive Plan is “trying to build it with a natural resource base and agricultural base.”

Daniel Lang, the Town’s code enforcement officer, said the goal is not to expand the amount of land available for commercial development but to “place stricter guidelines for developers (by) looking at consequences to natural resources.”

“We will be setting more limitations … criteria (that developers would have to follow) that would be sent to the planning board for complete review,” he added. “It will add an extra step of protection for the environment … and will keep it rural.”

Mountain agreed, stating that the Town “wants to be on the forefront, (able) to dictate to developers that if you want to come here, you will build to these standards.”

Johnston, in her PowerPoint presentation, explained that the Comprehensive Plan -- a blueprint for zoning and code design for the next 15 years or more -- addresses key issues such as land use, natural resources, agriculture and farmland, parks and recreation, housing and residential neighborhoods, business and economic development, transportation and energy, and government services and budgeting.

The Comprehensive Plan team, which also includes Sheila Hess of CC Environment & Planning, of East Bethany, and Matt Ingalls of Ingalls Planning & Design, of Fairport, has reviewed existing studies in these areas, and has set the following goal: Balancing natural, agricultural and rural landscapes with residential, commercial, industrial and institutional development.

“The keystone of the entire plan in general is the land use map (which defines the different zones and shows areas that are best suited for development),” Johnston said.

She noted that their research has led to a projection that the Town has another 1.5 million square feet of land that lends itself well to future development (currently 2.7 million square feet has been developed in that manner). She also said their model calls for an additional 500 or so housing units.

The Comprehensive Plan committee also is analyzing the Town’s budget, Johnston said, to gauge the plan’s financial impact. She showed a slide that revealed that 62 percent of the Town’s revenue is derived from taxes paid by homeowners.

Post said he expects that number to decrease in a couple years when some of the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOTS) granted to large commercial ventures start to come off the books, and those businesses begin to pay more in taxes.

All involved stated that Wednesday’s meeting is a step in the process, which could go on for another few months.

A public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 21 at Town Hall. Depending upon the feedback, changes could be made, pushing the plan’s adoption to the spring.

“This is not the first or the last of these meetings and this is not a slam dunk,” Post said. “But if you don’t have a plan, change occurs anyway. It’s our kids and our grandkids that we’re looking out for.”

Photo -- Barbara Johnston, left, and Daniel Lang address some of Mary Martha Webster's concerns following Wednesday night's Comprehensive Plan Update presentation at Batavia Town Hall. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

December 2, 2016 - 10:33am
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, town of batavia, comprehensive plan.

A public informational meeting on the Town of Batavia’s updated Comprehensive Plan is scheduled for 7 p.m. next Wednesday (Dec. 7) at the Town Hall on West Main Street Road.

Residents, business owners and landowners are invited to attend the two-hour session, which will focus on the Town’s vision of a “regional, rural and resilient” community.

The Comprehensive Plan is a document meant to guide Town decisions over the next 15 to 20 years relating to land use and zoning, natural resource conservation, business and economic development, transportation and other infrastructure, agriculture and farmland, and community services.

The Comprehensive Plan will update the Town’s current plan, which was adopted in 2009. It incorporates key findings and recommendations from several plans and studies that have been completed over the past several years.

These include plans for agriculture and farmland, transportation, recreation and economic development. The Comprehensive Plan will also help to implement the goals and policies of Green Genesee/ Smart Genesee, which identified key natural assets and presents strategies to leverage these resources for conservation, recreation, economic development and quality of life.

In addition to maps, statistics and analysis of existing conditions and trends, the Plan includes a Land Use Plan that shows appropriate locations for agricultural, residential, commercial, industrial, conservation, recreation and mixed-use development, and projected build-out over the next 15 years.

The Plan sets goals and recommends actions that the Town can take to:

-- encourage a balance of development types and mixed uses in appropriate areas;
-- conserve natural resources and limit flood damage;
-- retain high-quality farmland and support the agricultural economy;
-- enhance recreational opportunities for residents;
-- continue to grow the tax base with commercial and industrial development, while supporting existing businesses;
-- enhance residential quality of life and accommodate a mix of housing types to meet the needs of people who work in and near the Town, as well as seniors and families;
-- improve transportation connections and extend transportation facilities to meet community needs;
-- manage development and Town expenditures in a fiscally responsible manner.

Those interested can “drop in” any time to learn about the Plan and ask questions of Town representatives and consultants. The formal presentation will begin at 7:30 p.m.

November 9, 2015 - 8:00am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Millennials, comprehensive plan, Jason Molino.

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Batavia's landscape is changing, with more vegetable gardens, chicken coops and solar panels, and that's a trend the city would like to see continue, said City Manager Jason Molino while showing off his family's new greenhouse in the backyard of their home on Vernon Avenue.

Molino said code enforcement officers Ron Panek and Doug Randall report seeing more and more of these sort of backyard amenities, which is right in line with the city's strategic thinking about creating a more livable and sustainable environment, the kind of environment marketing studies and news reports show Millennials are seeking.

"This is just one example of what you can do," Molino said. "It shows how you can take your space and make it more livable and enjoyable for the whole family."

This particular greenhouse cost Molino a bit less than $900 to build, and the size of it required a city permit. But greenhouses can be built for a lot less and at a smaller scale so that no permit is required. As the city goes through its comprehensive plan review, one thing planners will be asked to consider is how to both streamline the process and protect the ability of residents to incorporate these sort of projects into their yards.

Every board, nail and pane of glass was locally sourced, Molino said, including the unique roof, which is a green roof grown right here in Batavia.

Comprised of several varieties of sedum, which is a plant that stores water and grows well in a wide range of climate zones, green roofs help insulate a building, control stormwater runoff (and thereby inhibit the flow of pollutants into storm drains) and improve air quality.

Vegetal I.D. is a company based in Batavia (the U.S. division of the French company Le Prieuré) that grows trays of sedum for green roofs on land leased from C.Y. Farms. The company's customer base, said Sander Teensma, is within a 500-mile radius of Batavia, which brings in a variety of climates where these sedum roofs thrive.

"This is an idea that is gaining momentum," Teensma said. 

For the Molino family, the greenhouse is a project "that took on a life of its own," Jason said. For the past few years, the Molinos have been growing vegetables in their backyard, and as their children have gotten older, they've become more active participants in the process. It's a life-learning lesson the Molinos want to encourage. So they started talking about what they could do next -- more raised beds, a chicken coop, or perhaps a greenhouse.

Molino got his uncle involved and they started designing a greenhouse and finding sources of local material for construction. One thing led to another, and Molino decided a green roof would be perfect for the project, especially since there was a local company that could provide the roof.

And the whole project fits right in with the direction of the city's plan for a revised comprehensive plan that aims to focus on amenities and lifestyle choices for the up-and-coming generation of Americans who seek a life less defined by corporate dictates, more authentic in food choices and more environmentally conscious.

The comprehensive plan can help guide the city toward the kind of living environment people increasingly seem to be seeking so it doesn't lose out on the growth opportunity.

"We incorporate those ideas into the comprehensive plan so we advance the ideas and they can be done more easily," Molino said. "It helps market the community to capture a lot of the growth that's going to happen in the county over the next 10 years."

If projects such as STAMP are successful -- and the coming of 1366 Technologies is a hopeful sign -- then it should mean an influx of the kind of jobs Millennials will seek, then it's critical for Batavia to position itself as a livable community for those workers, or risk losing most of them to Buffalo or Rochester.

"The comprehensive plan reflects the values we want to see in the community over the next five to 10 years," Molino said. "We want to encourage and make it easier (to build these sorts of projects). If these are the amenities and quality-of-life features that people want, and we're seeing a trend when they buy homes and properties, how do we ensure that we can continue that trend and how can we build off of that? That's what the comprehensive plan does."

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Craig Yunker, of C.Y. Farms, Jason Molino, Sander Teensma, and Paul Brent, production manager for Vegetal I.D.

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