Victor is the fastest growing town in Ontario County, but sometimes development comes with growing pains.
VICTOR — It's the fastest growing community in Ontario County and one of the most sought-after communities in upstate New York.
With a positive, energetic business climate, a wildly potent Route 96 corridor, some of the lowest tax rates in the region, and easy access to the state Thruway, Victor is fertile soil for growth and development.
These are a few of the reasons why its population exploded from less than 10,000 in 2000 to more than 14,000 in 2010.
Victor's healthy balance of housing and commercial development make it a magnet for continued development — in 2015 alone some 15 major projects were underway within the town's 36 square miles.
This kept town and village planners hopping, and developers knocking at the door. Many were successful, while others struggled. Why?
Mauro and Karen Polidori opened their Route 96 restaurant, SIX-50, in January. After a rocky start, their pizza ovens are fired up and business is humming.
“We’re open, but the town didn’t do anything to help that,” said Mauro in early February. By his count, he’s constructed some 450 homes in Victor, so he’s no stranger to the development process.
After putting a contingent offer on the property at 7217 Route 96, he took plans for his 7,091-square-foot multi-unit commercial building to town officials.
“We showed them a sketch of what you see right now, and they all said it’s great,” said Polidori. “We go ahead and purchase the piece of property. We go before the planning board and they all embrace it. We go to the final meeting and they threw up a roadblock about the zoning. It took six months.”
With the delay came attorney and engineer fees, which Polidori disputed. He also wasn’t a fan of hearing one answer from Planning Board members and then a different answer from a code enforcement officer.
“I’ve been building in Victor for 25 years; I‘ve lived here since 1984 or 1985,” said Polidori. “I don’t want anything special — I want to be treated like everyone else. But all they do is make you keep chasing your tail. It’s a fight, and it shouldn’t be that hard.”
Polidori said he could build somewhere else, but Victor is his hometown. His heart is here.
The Polidoris aren’t the only ones who’ve hit bumps in the road.
A question of style
Owners of a fast-growing car dealership at 7200 Route 96 are doing site work in preparation for their two-story 34,600-square-foot building that will include a showroom and space for sales, service, parts, storage, and offices.
Victor Chevrolet owners Rick Milham and Matt and Carmen Indiano have been grinding through the application process formally since last January — and it’s been touch and go over the actual design of the building.
Planning Board members were cool to Chevy branding from the start, which demands clean lines and an exterior of large ACM (aluminum composite material) panels and glass. They called it angular and blockish, and missing of the town character they’d required of other developers.
According to official minutes of the June 9, 2015, Planning Board meeting, attorney Jerry Goldman said his clients were “between a rock and a hard place,” and had “pushed the envelope just about as far as (they could) with Chevrolet.”
“As much as we might not like the blue and gray ACM panels... that is not a negotiable item,” said Milham, the minutes show. “This is the first time in three or four, well at least three Architectural Review Committee meetings that all of a sudden we hear that we need clapboard siding like those guys across the street. The guys across the street don’t have Chevrolet as their franchise owners.”
Planning Board members balked. At a July 28, 2015, meeting, board member Al Gallina complained it would set a dangerous precedent if the board approved such a design departure, saying they’d be likely to “succumb going forward to any Walmart, Kmart, McDonalds, or Wendy’s that says basically ‘that’s our design.’”
Minutes record Planning Board Chair Joe Logan telling Milham, Indiano and Indiano, “I totally appreciate and sympathize with the fact that you guys are growing a business and appear to be good community business people. If this was a business that wasn’t contributing nearly as significantly, I think you might see a lot less sympathy in bending the rules in the architecture… I can live with this because it will be a vast improvement architecturally and will clean up the site as well. As shiny as it will look, I’d rather see that than what’s there now and have it turned into a car storage lot and a used car dealership.”
So while holding firm on brand-defying design expectations with other new businesses — like McDonald’s — board members flexed in Victor Chevrolet’s case. Construction is underway, and owners are keeping a low profile and sticking to business.
Multiple calls by Messenger Post to Milham, Indiano, and Indiano were unreturned. Ultimately, on the advice of the their attorney, Matt Indiano confirmed they would have no comment on the review process.
Other 2015 projects
Soccer balls and volleyballs are now flying at Pinnacle Athletic Campus on Phillips Road in Fishers. The impressive 90,000-square-foot field house and 45,000-square-foot office space is buzzing with activity, as the first phase of the 94-acre multi-sport health and wellness complex is now a reality.
It was a long time coming for Victor resident Jim Ludwig, who first pitched the idea to the Planning Board in May 2012.
Neighboring residents pushed back multiple times on the additional noise, traffic, light and strain on infrastructure the complex would bring. And the SEQRA process revealed the project would, in fact, impact traffic, the town’s aging sanitary sewer system, and wet areas and water quality. But not during the first phase of the project.
Like Victor Chevrolet owners, Ludwig declined to comment on the long journey. He’s still got a long way to go — Pinnacle’s master plan includes multiple phases, so he’ll be back before the Planning Board if he wants to continue to grow the complex.
One of the most prolific Victor developers — Rainaldi Brothers Inc. — experienced fewer obstacles with High Point Business Park, Lot 3. The 120,000-square-foot, three-story Class A office building was built near the building that houses the headquarters of Constellation Brands Inc., overlooking Eastview Mall. It’s now home to Coopervision and Soleo companies.
The Rainaldi Brothers Inc. and specifically Fred Rainaldi Jr., is responsible for repurposing two 19th-century cobblestone houses that are now home to Starbucks Coffee Co. and Alex and Ani. Other buildings house the Olive Garden, FedEx, The North Face, Woodhouse Day Spa, and NextStepU.
As was the case with others, Rainaldi did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment on the application process.
Quite possibly the most hotly debated application before Victor planners is the Gullace project, a 71-townhome, 17-single-family-patio-home complex between County Road #9 and Lynaugh Road.
The project, first proposed in 1985, has since gone through multiple iterations, with varying degrees of opposition from neighboring residents, who oppose density, traffic, noise, parking issues, and possible crime. Complicating matters — about 18 acres is in the town, and about three acres is in the village.
Approximately 0.7 acres are expected to be annexed to the village from the town.
“There are some projects that we’ll do an outstanding job on,” said Supervisor Jack Marren, on behalf of the town’s planning department and boards. “Some are more scrutinized by the public, and all boards — conservation, planning board, town board — are going to be more cautious. Maybe there’s a rezoning or concern from the conservation board, and consequently we may end up with delays.
“We’re by far not perfect, but clearly trying to make strides to improve,” said Marren.
DiMarco Groups President John DiMarco II, the driving force behind the proposed Fishers Ridge project in Victor, believes “good things take time.”
The proposed multi-phased, 96-acre retail-entertainment-residential complex — bordered by Route 96, Lane Road, the Thruway and Rowley Road — has been plodding through paperwork since September 2007. DiMarco said it’s worth the wait.
Once realized, it will include a 132,000-square-foot Bass Pro Shops store, junior anchors, specialty retail stores, restaurants and banks as tenants. It will also offer residential space with underground parking, hotel space, and second-floor high-tech Class A office space.
“Inherently the review process is good — it’s effective,” said DiMarco. Though he said he’d like to see the discussion between the developer and planning and town board members be more “objective, and based just on facts.”
For developers, he said, there’s a lot of passion about the project that “comes across as emotions.” And on the other side, town representatives may feel it’s their role to push back in every situation.
“I think there’s a sense that you have to argue and debate the points, instead of objectively reviewing them,” he said. “And there’s a sense that developers are only doing what’s best for them, and not taking into account what’s best for the community.”
But for the most part, that’s not the case, he said. Most developers are “good people trying to do good work.” And if there’s evidence to the contrary, then officials should obviously respond to that, he said.
Another common denominator: Most developers understand ahead of time they’re going to go through a process that’s very well defined by New York state, DiMarco said.
“It’s not unanticipated,” he said. “It’s a question of how effectively can we do it. And it’s actually made for better projects when it’s executed properly.”
Case in point: BayTowne Plaza revitalization in Penfield, a DiMarco project that started in 2009, with hammers swinging in fall 2015.
“It’s better because the town and us worked through it,” DiMarco said. “It didn’t have to take as long as it did, but it is better. And I think Fishers Ridge is going to enjoy the same thing. It’s going to be better because of the SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review) process.”
DiMarco said the project is in the last phase of planning, working through the final Environmental Impact Statement. But it’s “still going to take some months,” he said.
On the town side
No two projects are alike, said Marren.
“You could put them side by side and you’re going to get apples and oranges,” Marren said.
The challenges a specific project brings to the table — like its impact on the environment, traffic, and neighbors — will dictate the pace it moves forward, he said. Those are the kinds of things that “weigh heavy on the minds of all the decision makers."
And once a building goes up, it’s up. There’s no turning back.
“You only get one bite of the apple — one chance,” said Marren. “It’s not like we can get out a big eraser because we don’t like the way something looks. There’s one opportunity (to get it right).”
The good news is, the more often developers work with the town, the better they get at ironing out the wrinkles before coming to the table.
“Developers have learned from their own mistakes, Marren said. “They’ve learned it’s worth their while to have a public information session, or go door to door (and talk with neighbors). That type of effort is going to save time and money so they don’t have to go back to the drawing board later.”
Some developers have been proactive, and others haven’t, he said. The ones who lay the groundwork with neighboring property owners almost always get to the finish line — and with “a lot less pain,” he said.
A 58-acre, 117-unit subdivision of townhomes and patio homes by Morrell Builders — Silverton Glenn on Route 444 — is a prime example.
“The Morrells, their first time at bat was to have property annexed to the village,” said Marren. “There was no outreach to neighbors and the outcome was not what they were looking for.”
The second pitch came after talking one-on-one with neighboring residents, and moved through the review process more successfully. Phases one through three are now between 75 percent and 100 percent sold, the Silverton Glenn website reports.
“I think the DiMarco Group as well has started that same type of outreach to Lane Road and High Street,” Marren said.
To ease the application process, Director of Development Katie Evans emphasized that an applicant has the option to appear before the Planning Board informally before making a formal application.
“We also notify the public via postcards for informal meetings, so it is essentially an opportunity to throw an idea up the flagpole to get public and Planning Board comments prior to expending a great deal of money,” she said.
And following planning board meetings, draft meeting minutes are issued as soon as possible. These include the direction back to the applicant so they have a clear understanding of what is needed and when it’s needed.
“This is an area we have worked hard on and I think have come a long way,” she said.
Ontario County Director of Planning Tom Harvey applauded Victor’s pre-application process, in part because it saves needless expense.
“It’s always a great idea to work with staff and local experts before an applicant spends a lot of money with architects and engineers and environmental experts,” said Harvey.
Victor hasn’t gone to the extent of having more proactive design guidelines that show potential developers what the town is looking for, he said. But they do have design standards in place.
With the ink barely dry on Victor’s updated comprehensive plan, “they’ve got a boatload of work to do to implement it,” said Harvey. “It’s going to take awhile for them to get on the same page.”
The plan is sophisticated and complex — a good thing, given the development pressures in Victor, he said.
“It’s not surprising it took that long to get a good comprehensive plan,” said Harvey. “The town put a lot of effort and resources into it, and I salute them, but it doesn’t mean their work is done.”
To developers, Harvey advised working with the town staff through the process. And regardless of which municipality they’re working with, there will be bumps in the road, he said.
“Victor’s a beautiful place with a lot of opportunities,” he said. “And it’s an important element of the county’s environmental and physical health.”
Variety is key, he said. A good healthy local economy is one that has a broad spectrum of business and residential development. Those communities will be more stable, more economically vital, and property will generally appreciate in value over time, Harvey said.
More than a car
Developers bring more to the table than meets the eye, Marren and Harvey agreed. The project they’re proposing is more than the brick and mortar that’s immediately visible.
“Victor Chevrolet brings much more than just a car sale,” Marren said. “Every car that goes for a test drive, they’re buying gas from the station down the road, doughnuts and coffee for their customers and pizza for their employees.
“The wide assortment of advertising attracts people from outside the community into Victor,” he said. “And while they’re here, they’re getting a firsthand look at the town and services here. They may be back to eat at a restaurant, or stay in a hotel.”
There’s also the increase in property tax based on the property’s assessed value, and the sales tax revenue that will make its way into the town’s budget, Marren said.
“They’re contributing to services for our residents,” he said.
And for those who think developers are making millions off one investment, Marren said their profit margin is much more slim that you might imagine.
“They’re able to make a living and continue to be able to buy land,” said Marren of developers. “But believe me, they have a lot of expenses. They’re proud of their product, and they’re proud of their reputation.”
— Pre-application conferences with staff and other town officials or representatives are strongly encouraged by the town Planning Board.
— Pre-application meetings with the Planning Board give potential applicants a chance to give a brief informal presentation, reviewing the existing site conditions, present the vision and the scope and scale of the project. They can get informal and preliminary feedback from board members.
— Neighboring property owners are notified by postcard before informal Planning Board meetings, so they can comment before developers file a formal application.
— Initial site visits give potential applicants a chance to walk the site, view the identified resources, and assess opportunities and constraints with members of the Planning Board, Conservation Board, planning and zoning supervisor, and if appropriate, the town historian, code enforcement officer, town engineer or other consultants.
— Filing a resource identification and concept plan identifies and assesses existing historic, cultural and scenic resources, and describes how the development will interact with those resources and conditions.
— Formal review of subdivisions and site plans
— Conservation easements may need to be developed and implemented in some cases to protect or preserve resources identified earlier in the process.
— File formal site plan application and review
— File a formal subdivision application and review sketch, in preliminary and final form.
— Public hearings and comment periods are scheduled as needed to give residents an opportunity for comment.
— Complete the State Environmental Quality Review Act process.
— Begin site work and construction.
Major projects: Where they stand
Silverton Glenn Subdivision — Sixty-five townhouse units and 11 patio lots off Route 444. Received approval for its fourth of four sections, Currently building in Sections 2, 3 and 4.
Auburn Hills, Sections 1 and 2 — Seventy-one single family homes off Cork and Modock roads. Received approvals and Ryan Homes is currently building the last few homes in Section 1. Woodstone Custom Homes purchased Section 2 from DiFelice Development and is underway with construction of the infrastructure and have one lot under construction with a home.
Tuscany Hills Subdivision — Twenty-seven single family homes off of Plastermill Road. Has been under construction since summer 2015 and one building permit for one of the lots has been filed and is currently under review.
Auburn Creek Residential Apartment Community — Apartment complex with 184 units off Route 251. Has been under construction for more than a year. Some buildings are occupied and the rest are in various stages of construction.
Lehigh Crossing — Twelve-lot industrial and technology park off County Road 42 (Wangum Road). This is in various stages of development. Finger Lakes Technologies Group received site plan approval for an addition to their building in 2015 but has not yet started construction. Lots 10, 11 and 12 all received site plan approval, and Lot 10 houses the Victor Recreation Center, as of January. Lot 11 is under construction and Lot 12 just had a pre-construction meeting and will be under construction in the near future.
Fishers Ridge — Commercial, hotel, office, residential space totalling 750,000 square feet, between Route 96 and High Street and Lane Road. Currently in the Environmental Impact Statement process. The Planning Board held a public hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement in 2015 and awaits the submittal of the Final Environmental Impact Statement.
Ballerina Court Subdivision — Seventy-one single family homes off of McMahon Road. Phase 1, with 23 homes, has been under construction and there are five building permits and one Certificate of Occupancy has been issued.
Pinnacle Athletic Campus — Phase 1 of a 94-acre health and wellness athletic campus has been completed and is open.
Gullace Property — A 71-townhome, 17-single-family-patio-home project between County Road #9 and Lynaugh Road has been proposed. The next step will be annexation of a parcel from the town to the village.
Anton Rise Subdivision — Fourteen single-family lots off of County Road 9 has several lots under construction.
Victor Chevrolet – A new 34,600-square-foot building between Route 96 and High Street was approved in 2015 and is currently under construction. An existing showroom will be removed.
High Point Business Park, Lot 3 — Building 200, a 120,000-square-foot office building has been completed and is occupied by Coopervision and Soleo companies.
Meadows Business Park — Three lots off Old Dutch Road received site plan approval and constructed a 17,133 square foot building on Lot 2.
Victor Community Church — A 6,000-square-foot addition to an existing building along with a parking lot expansion on Route 251 received site plan approval in August of 2015, and is currently under construction.
Drumlins, Section 3, Phase 3 — Townhouse community off Chapelhill Drive and Rawson Road, received final subdivision approval for the last 20-lot section on Jan. 26.