By Karen Carr Keefe
Usually “positive” means good and “negative” means bad.
But when you are a developer whose project is under State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR), a “positive declaration” means potential problems were found that could have an adverse impact on the environment. As a developer, you now have to deal with the problems before going any further with that project.
That’s what happened to Acquest Development Co. at Monday’s Town Board meeting.
A positive declaration was issued calling for Acquest to prepare a supplemental draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on its proposed 1.1-million-square-foot distribution facility at 2780 Long Road. The town voted to redesignate itself as lead agency for review of a revised version of the project. The site is where Amazon had wanted to build a similar facility until it withdrew last August.
When the review process hits a snag, there are delays: Exactly what Acquest Vice President Michael Huntress has been trying to avoid, he said, during the past 15 months of being open and direct with the board.
During the workshop preceding the regular Town Board meeting, Huntress listened to Town Attorney Dan Spitzer’s explanation of why a resolution was needed declaring a negative declaration and a supplemental draft EIS.
“I’m struggling mightily with this resolution and the broad nature of the resolution, instead of addressing over the course of the last six months the specific SEQR items that you would like to see supplemented and justifying why they should be supplemented from our 1991 EIS that was complete,” Huntress said. “I’m trying to understand how – our traffic counts on this spec project are less than what was approved in 1991. The wetland impact in 1991 was greater than the wetland impact today. I don’t understand why we would look at that.”
He said he’d like to meet regularly with the Town Board to determine what are the specific items that have a greater negative impact on the environment that Acquest needs a supplement for.
Grand Island resident David Reilly addressed the Town Board about the Acquest project in the public comment section for agenda items.
“I hope in the process of thinking tonight about the question of the SEQR process and how you vote as the lead agency that you consider the fact that you are the stewards of the community, that you have a responsibility to the public to consider all of the impacts,” he said. “What we’re asking for tonight is not that you be anti-development, not that you be anti-Amazon, not that you be anti-warehouse, but that you be pro-community and that you think about the question of ‘Will this project have impacts?’ And if it does, we have a responsibility to do a thorough job of looking through all of the aspects of that.”
“I would suggest that a supplemental EIS is not enough, because we’re talking about a project that has had many iterations over an extended period of time – decades. It’s a different project today. It’s a unique project with different features and different impacts,” he said. “I would ask that you do a full scoping process which includes the community in a very thorough way, addresses every facet of that, whether that is the noise impacts, the pollution impact, the light impacts, the traffic impacts.”
Spitzer told the Town Board at its workshop meeting, “You do not have an adequate record in front of you to issue a negative declaration based on the changes since the last time that these studies were done.”
Spitzer said some items the positive declaration is based on include:
•Significant changes since a 1991 EIS was done for a different project on the same land. (There was also a different project proposed in 2012.)
•The traffic impact (the developer has done a traffic study).
•The impact on the habitat of short-eared owls, an endangered species that is now on the property.
•There has been no study of air emissions submitted.
•The fact the developer is now proposing the removal of 100 acres of vegetation.
•Concern over flooding potential with the removal of dirt to 26 feet below the level of the river.
•Indication that a height variance may be required. The town views it as a project with a 65-foot height, whereas the developers say the height is 45 feet. This calls into question whether there are significant visual impacts that haven’t been considered.
•The town believes a rezoning should have been requested regarding the project’s storm water facilities.
•The fact state environmental rules and regulations have changed since the last review of the property.
Spitzer said the developer would also need to submit a draft scope, or overview of relevant research on the identified problem. The public would have an opportunity to comment on the findings on what was proposed and what needs further study.
A public hearing would be scheduled on the developer’s site plan. The public would have new documents plus the record going back to 1991 and a previous EIS on the site of the proposed warehouse. The Zoning Board could be involved for variances and the Town Board for rezoning, based on the application as the town has reviewed it.
Once public comments are in in the draft EIS, Acquest would have to answer questions raised with a supplemental statement.
When all that is done, the Town Board would then finally be faced with the question of whether or not to approve the project in whole or in part, Spitzer said. The Zoning Board could also issue its own finding statement and act on that.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation can also weigh in particular permits that might be required.
“There are certain regulations related to threatened and endangered species that did not exist when the original reviews were done,” Spitzer said.