Former GM plant in Massena could qualify for brownfield cleanup support, funding
Thursday, June 21, 2018 - 11:50 am

By ANDY GARDNER

MASSENA -- The way the Town Council handles zoning of the former General Motors plant could affect their ability to receive Brownfield Opportunity Area funding through the Department of State, a DOS official told the board on Wednesday.

Designation as a BOA "sets the stage for future support, funding preference, and removes some of the risk and uncertainty associated with site redevelopment," according to a document from the St. Lawrence County Planning Office.

A Brownfield Opportunity Area study of the site, which was recently completed and made public, outlines numerous uses for the former industrial lot, once environmental remediation is complete. The county Planning Office and other local people and entities gave input into writing the plan. Department of State funded it, somewhere in the range of $360,000 to $400,000, according to Dave MacLeod from the DOS, who spoke at the meeting.

He urged the town to rezone the lot, because, according to him, many of the uses in the plan aren't allowed under the current industrial designation.

"What we're hoping is the town will put together a new zoning definition for that ... something that actually allows a wider range of uses," he said. "The range in the plan is three times as long as the current allowable uses."

Keith Zimmerman from the St. Lawrence County Planning Office said the town is not required to rezone the land, and could opt for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) option.

A PUD is a planning tool to allow developers to use land for an option not within zoning. It has its own regulatory process and "offers municipalities a constructive way to incorporate many innovative land use techniques within a single, coordinated development plan," according to the county Planning Office document.

"Developers don't need the BOA designation, it provides benefits ... you don't have to have them," Zimmerman told the board. "It's up to you ... ultimately it's a strong municipal home rule state. You control your own destiny.

"I don't want to make it sound like it's a hostage situation or anything else ... the state, to its credit, came in at a dreadful hour and said 'we're going to help.'"

MacLeod said the site isn't likely to get the BOA designation, which would preclude any funding attached to it, if they don't rezone to accommodate the uses outlined in the BOA study.

He used the analogy "If you give your kid car keys and say 'I want you to be home at 10'" and they scoff "You'd take those keys away."

He said his job is to ensure the state, after spending six figures on the BOA study, gets land back on the tax rolls and create jobs.

"You can do what you want. But we will respond accordingly. I can't say with 100 percent certainty that you will not get designation. The recommendation would be -- it will be a lot better if you have the zoning in place or are at least amenable to making the zoning change, otherwise, what did we do?" he told the board, adding that the secretary of state makes the decision to designate a BOA.

Town Supervisor Steve O'Shaughnessy indicated he is open to creating a new zoning designation for the site.

"Sounds rather simplistic, but this is, to me ... [is] the continuation and conclusion of the plan," he said.

"Yes, really," MacLeod responded.

"All you're asking us is ... do something everybody that was involved in developing the plan wants to have done," O'Shaughnessy said.

"They want that range of uses to be available ... the best way to make that a certainty for a developer is to codify it," according to MacLeod.

The study suggests many potential uses for the site.

"It recommends a range of uses, including business park, technology park, visitors/tourism center, regional tourism destination, and sports complex, in a range of sizes and configuration," the county Planning Office's handout reads.