Developer protests delay as “retribution” by village officials

A heated meeting of the Penn Yan Village Planning Board and developers Carol Genecco and Angelo Licciardello resulted in no action being taken on a site plan application for a senior citizen housing project within the village limits.

This follows the adoption a moratorium by the Village Board June 21 that put a six-month pause on the construction of and processing of all applications for senior housing so they have time to re-write that section of the village code.

At question is the definition of the types of housing permitted in the R1 Zoning District (Single Family Residential), which includes the site at 200 South Ave. where developer David Genecco plans to build eight townhouse-style units for senior housing. The moratorium came after Yates County Judge Jason Cook ruled in the developers’ favor in a lawsuit challenging last fall’s decision by the village zoning board of appeals that the planned project is not a permitted use for the R1 district.

At the time, the ZBA had upheld a decision by Penn Yan Code Enforcement Officer Bruce Lyon that the proposed housing was not permitted in the R1 district, which abuts the town of Milo site where Genecco is building an 74-unit townhouse project on the former home of  Keuka Estates Mobile Home Park. 

After a motion was passed to allow alternates Mike Willis and Michael Clancy to vote on this matter in the absence of Vice Chair Sarah Vestal and the recusal of Chairman Stan Olevnik, with Brent Bodine acting as chair, Willis stated that he believed the moratorium was “chopped liver” and the village should let this project go ahead without delay. Village Attorney Ed Brockman said that it may not be legal for the Planning Board to move forward as the moratorium prohibits the processing of all applications.

Representing the developers, attorney Jon Tantillo, son of Yates County Assistant District Attorney Mike Tantillo, claimed that under the “special facts doctrine,” the village’s moratorium is a textbook example of “arbitrary conduct that delayed processing,” and should not apply to the project that is already underway.

To this Brockman again offered that a hardship exemption process is available for the developer to consider, but to excuse this project the village would have to re-write the local law, which would further delay the process. Brockman then suggested the Planning Board go into closed session with legal counsel. Upon their return, Jean D’Abbracci was made acting chair after Bodine was excused for an emergency. 

Michael Clancy then moved for the Planning Board to “set aside action” on the site plan, making it clear, “this is not an up or down vote tonight,” he said. The motion was seconded and approved unanimously.

Licciardello objected strongly, calling the lack of action “ridiculous” and saying this was opening up the village to a potentially large lawsuit. “We are trying to invest in Penn Yan. You are costing us money and you are costing the village money,” he exclaimed, before exiting the room with a vulgar epithet.

Carol Genecco accused the village and Mayor Leigh MacKerchar of acting out of “retribution” after they decided not to have the Milo portion of the property incorporated into the village. “This (zoning issue) should have been brought up before. The timing is only because the judge ruled in our favor,” said Genecco, calling it “playground stuff” and claiming MacKerchar told her “he had tricks up his sleeve.” She added that they wouldn’t have gone to all the expense of making a presentation that night if they had been told ahead of time if the decision was already made.

D’Abbracci took exception to these claims. “These conversations you’re imagining did not happen,” she said. “Our main goal is to not make a mistake because we acted too quickly.”

MacKerchar says the village board’s planning and development committee are working on the new code language right away. He noted that the developer has met with village officials and agreed to not build a driveway to South Avenue from the Milo project, reducing the potential for increased traffic in the residential neighborhood.

A June 20 letter to MacKerchar from Genecco’s attorney, Alan J. Knauf calls the moratorium “sour grapes” on the village’s part because Genecco refused to agree to annex the adjacent project into the village. He wrote, “The village should welcome senior housing for the growing senior population in the Finger Lakes Region and the village. Rather than doing everything it can to try to stop this development, it should be concentrating its efforts on encouraging development of housing for its aging population.”

Brockman made clear that this is not a denial of the application, and the matter could very well be back before the Planning Board at the August meeting.