By Karen Carr Keefe
Senior Contributing Reporter
Councilman Michael Madigan has told the Island Dispatch that he will be filing a motion at Monday’s Town Board meeting to propose a moratorium on approving warehouses and distribution centers on Grand Island.
In one such project, Acquest Development seeks town approval to build a 1-million-square-foot facility on Long Road, at a site originally intended for Amazon, which walked away from its “Project Olive” in 2020.
Madigan also referred to a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Long Road warehouse as potentially coming up for a vote by the Town Board at Monday’s meeting.
Madigan said he wants to gain time for the Town Board to review the process for approving such projects, in light of new circumstances he said have outpaced the town’s zoning laws.
“This moratorium, if it’s supported, would temporarily suspend approvals for warehouses and distribution centers while the town reviews and considers potentially changing its land use regulations (zoning laws) to address new circumstances not addressed by its current M1 zoning law,” Madigan wrote in a submission to the Dispatch.
“After considerable review of the current M1 zoning law, it is my opinion that changes in the global economy have resulted in our current law falling out of alignment with its original intent. Mega malls are being replaced by mega distribution centers, which did not exist when the M1 zoning law was updated last in 2012.”
The Dispatch contacted other Town Board members for their response to Madigan’s proposed moratorium.
“We’re just trying to legally follow the process to a T,” Deputy Supervisor Pete Marston said regarding warehouses and distribution centers. He noted the whole board will make the decision.
Councilmember Thomas Digati explained his view of the best approach for the Town Board in dealing with projects such as the proposed Long Road distribution center.
“First, as far as a path forward for dealing with distributors and warehouses, I do not think that the issue is the fact that it is a distribution center or warehouse. I think the concern shared by the vast majority of residents is the size and scale of the proposed Long Road facility. I doubt that, prior to early 2020 when Project Olive was presented, anyone could have imagined the town receiving an application for something of that size,” he said.
“The unique nature of our community cannot be overlooked when evaluating any project. We are not only unique in character, but because we are literally an island. We have two ways on and two off. Things that may not be too impactful in another community of similar size and population can have a far more significant impact in our town,” Digati said.
“The best path forward is ensuring there is communication on all sides: between the board and residents and between the board and applicants. I was a strong proponent of getting all of the relevant studies posted for the public. Having the information available is critical. An understanding of the process is equally critical.
“At this point, the question before the board with respect to the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) is whether the document is complete and thus ready for public review and comment. The town would not be approving the project by accepting the DSEIS. To the contrary, it would be the next step and would open the public comment period, force a public hearing, and work towards the applicant's preparation of a Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS).
“That statement could result in significant changes to the project. That FSEIS would ultimately need to be accepted by the board, which would then need to issue a findings statement outlining the environmental and other potential impacts to conclude the SEQRA process.
“In sum, the review of this project, regardless of what happens Monday, is far from complete and the Town Board is not in a position to make a determination on the project.
“I would add that there needs to be revisions to our zoning laws and our design standards to make the zoning consistent with the comprehensive plan. This will help address many of the issues commonly raised during the project review process. This is something that Councilman Marston and I have been discussing and working on.
“Oftentimes, changes to our laws end up being reactive instead of proactive. The point of the comprehensive plan is to plan for the future. We need to make sure we are using it as a guide to our decisions and make sure that we make necessary changes to our zoning and other laws to ensure we receive the types of applications we receive and approve.”
Councilmember Christian Bahleda was not available for comment on the upcoming moratorium proposal.
Madigan compared his moratorium proposal to one he said worked well previously to guide town policy on solar farms.
“On Jan. 19, 2021, the Grand Island Town Board passed a similar moratorium, a moratorium on solar farm approvals. Prior to this approval, many residents raised concerns to the Town Board about issues they viewed must be resolved related to safety, health and welfare of residents related to solar facilities – very similar to complaints currently being raised about warehouses and distribution centers,” Madigan said.
“The Town Board, as part of their approval of the moratorium, required that a supervisory committee be formed that included all stakeholders related to solar farms. The committee included proposed solar farm property owners, solar farm developers, solar farm neighbors and both anti- and pro-solar farm residents,” he said.
Madigan noted several solar farms were at various stages of consideration and approval at that time.
“This committee gave a voice to all stakeholders on all sides of the (solar farms) issue and provided them an opportunity to have real input on the requirements that must be met for all future approvals of solar farms,” he said. “Most importantly, many residents at the time felt their concerns were falling on deaf ears, and this committee gave them a seat at the table.”
Madigan added, “This committee-of-stakeholders approach proved to be highly effective. Many issues were raised, and risks mitigated, in the amended law. During the final approvals, stakeholders from all sides of the issues gave positive feedback both on the process and final output.”
The Town Board’s workshop session is at 6 p.m. and the regular meeting starts at 8 p.m.