Article and Photo by Karen Carr Keefe
Senior Contributing Writer
It was déjà vu all over again Wednesday for the Grand Island Town Board in setting an 8 p.m. Sept. 18 public hearing on the Long Road mega warehouse proposal.
This time, a procedural snag from the Aug. 28 regular board meeting was fixed in a special workshop session after a break in the meeting to consult with the town’s legal counsel.
There had been a question as to whether the motion on zoning laws actually was seconded in the Aug. 28 meeting. Also, the proposed law had not been referred to the town Planning Board, which Deputy Supervisor Peter Marston said should be part of the process in any land use laws the town considers.
The original motion also was retooled in the workshop to broaden its scope in the effort to realign zoning with the town’s comprehensive plan.
Bottom line, the Town Board has reaffirmed its commitment to review all of the Island’s zoning laws as they pertain not only to warehouses and distribution centers, but also to all buildings going up in the town.
“The board really needed to sit together and get some legal advice from our counsel and look at the best path forward,” Marston said. “We are looking at all zoning.”
Grand Island is adapting to new realities, he said.
“We’re starting to grow. We’re starting to see some growing pains. We’re trying to make sure that we don’t continue to get those” (growing pains),” Marston said. “We’re just trying to keep an eye on size and traffic and all that stuff just to make sure that we don’t get over our heads.”
In the discussion before the new motion was adopted by a 4-0 vote, Marston said, “I strongly agree with the higher-end cap for any M-1/M-2 because the bigger the building, the more you impact; and I think we really need to start paying attention to what we’re doing there. I think we can get in trouble if we start getting too big too quick.”
Councilmember Tom Digati echoed concerns of his fellow board members that, as a board, they need to be “proactive instead of reactive.”
“The point of these changes are to take a look at what we want across the Island and try to do what we can to ensure we’re seeing the types of developments we want,” Digati said. Referring to the Sept. 18 public hearing, he added, “I don’t think there’s one of us in this room that even thinks we’d consider making a motion to approve or not approve any laws at that point. It’s really to get some feedback from the public and continue to make necessary modifications.”
Town attorneys will draw up a draft law on zoning changes that should be posted today, Sept. 8, on the town’s official website, www.grand-island.ny.gov.
Warehouses and distribution centers are still removed from “as of right” use in M-1/M-2 zoning, but developers can apply for a special use permit to pursue such projects.
Acquest Development’s Long Road project has a size of 1.2 million square feet. The new version of the draft law sets the cap on building size at 100,000 square feet, whereas the Aug. 28 iteration of the motion had a limit of 300,000 square feet.
“That would be our submission cap without special use. It’s lowered quite a bit. There’s always a path to do anything, but that’s what we’re going to deem acceptable in that zoning,” Marston said after the meeting. “We’ve been looking at caps in other zonings, too.”
“We’re working hard on all our zonings just to make sure everything’s appropriately developing.” Marston said smart development is the goal: “We don’t want to go too big with this or too small. We’re trying to do the balancing act.”
Rayhill: Board Missed The Mark In Initial Warehouse Vote
The initiative for Wednesday’s workshop review of the proposed zoning law – as it pertains to warehouses – apparently came in part from spokesperson Cathy Rayhill of the Coalition for Responsible Economic Development for Grand Island (CRED4GI).
Councilmember Michael Madigan said he had also called for the workshop meeting to further discuss and clarify the zoning issues.
Rayhill said she noticed some irregularities in reviewing the Aug. 28 Town Board meeting. She said the board didn’t deal properly with Madigan’s motion for a moratorium on warehouses and distribution facilities.
Rayhill said, “If we noticed it, we know the developer’s lawyers are going to notice it; and you’ve got to make sure you’re dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s. In that respect, for them to hold this additional workshop was probably a good idea.”
Madigan’s moratorium was designed to impose a breather to review town zoning law in the light of Acquest Development’s proposal for a 1.2-million-square-foot facility on Long Road.
The warehouse proposal drew some 40 protesters to Town Hall before the Aug. 28 meeting and more than a dozen speakers during the meeting. CRED4GI has circulated petitions against the Acquest warehouse project.
Rayhill said the motion – and a follow-up amendment proposing a law to remove warehouses from M-1 zoning – didn’t take the necessary steps.
“I pointed out to the Town Board some issues with their motion and felt they needed to rectify them. So, I think they talked among themselves and decided maybe they needed to have a workshop meeting,” she said.
“Procedurally, they didn’t do it right. Mike Madigan made his motion, and then (Councilmember Christian) Bahleda proposed an amendment to that motion, but nobody ever seconded the amendment,” Rayhill said.
Bahleda proposed to amend Madigan’s moratorium by setting a public hearing for 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 18, on a zoning revision that would remove warehouses from the “as-of-right” use in M-1 zoning. He also called for limiting the size of buildings on Grand Island to 300,000 square feet. A special use permit would be required for warehouse proposals to go forward through the approval process.
Rayhill said the amended motion was dealt with too quickly and mistakes were made.
“It happened in such a whirlwind and it happened so quickly, it was hard to catch, but I went back and watched the video. Procedurally, they just didn’t have their act together,” she said.
“I also pointed out that I think it actually would have been better to go forward with Madigan’s moratorium, because I think that would provide a better, more global reason and rationale for looking at reconciling our zoning laws with our comprehensive plan, because that’s the gist of the issue here.
“They need to take a comprehensive look at those discrepancies and get them resolved so that this doesn’t become an issue going forward. You want to add some kind of limitation on building size? Great! You know, more power to them. But you better do it right.”
She said that, at the Aug. 28 Town Board meeting, councilmembers requested that the Long Range Planning Committee take up the issue of the size cap for buildings as an agenda item at the committee’s next meeting, set for Aug. 31. “But they didn’t livestream (the meeting) and they haven’t posted it.”
On Wednesday, Bahleda said the Long Range Planning Committee referred the matter back to the Town Board, saying the committee wasn’t able to reach a conclusion on the warehouse zoning issue.
Rayhill also objected to what she said was the Town Board’s failure to follow through on a commitment it made to do detailed reviews and share information with the public, specifically of the traffic portion of the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement).
“They made commitments on that six times,” she said. “And why all of a sudden – their legal counsel was there for all six of those meetings – and now all of a sudden, their legal counsel is saying, ‘Oh no, we need to go forward. We can’t get public comments and stuff until we accept this draft of the EIS.’ That is not correct. And if that was the case, then, why back in January – or six different times – did their lawyers not speak up and say, ‘Hey guys, you can’t do that. We need to accept it before we can go forward with public reviews.’ ”
A public hearing on the supplemental draft EIS is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20, at the Grand Island High School auditorium.
Rayhill said she just thinks the Town Board dragged its feet on the process.
“This is bungling town business, and it does not look good,” she said.