Ronald W. Nesbitt

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Jan 30

The Tomato Project

Posted on January 30, 2017 at 10:50 AM by PattiAnn Schultz

I received word this week that Intergrow, the company that has been trying to locate a hydroponic tomato greenhouse project at the corner of State Road and Salt Road, has decided not to bring the project back in front of the Planning Board at this time. 

This past week WROC Channel 8 had been trying to contact me to set up a meeting to discuss this project but we could not coordinate our schedules.  So Channel 8 went ahead and reported on the story without my input about the project.

So now that Mr. Dirk Bemoans, the owner of Intergrow, has publicly stated that they have no more meetings scheduled with Webster at this time, this allows me to speak freely about this project.

A lot has been written and said by some Webster residents about the Intergrow project and the role they perceived that the Town Board played in the project. The members of the Town Board each take an Oath of Office to uphold the laws of New York State and we act according to those laws.  At no time does the Town Board make arbitrary decisions based on our personal opinions or the opinions of others not based in the law. We cannot and will not say that I want a McDonald’s on this corner, or Wendy’s over there, or CVS there; this is not the decision of the Town Board. The Town Board’s job, in a case such as this, is to stand behind the laws which are already in place and not get involved in our personal opinions.

When the Town Board was presented with application from Intergrow in April, 2015 by Mr. Matt Chatfield, the Executive Director of the Webster Economic Development Alliance who represents the Town of Webster, the Webster Central School District, the Village of Webster, Webster Chamber of Commerce, and the Village Business Improvement District, we did not know anything about hydroponic tomatoes or its operation.  At that time, it was my understanding, that the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, the President of Empire State Development, NYSEG and RG&E President and CEO Mark Lynch, and the Greater Rochester Enterprise President Mark Peterson,  where all on board to see this project work in Webster.

Since we were unfamiliar about hydroponics and how these tomatoes were actually grown, I arranged a bus trip with members of the Town Board, the Planning Board, the Zoning Board, the Assessor, the Commissioner of Public Works, the President of the Webster Chamber of Commerce, and other interested parties to visit the Intergrow site. After seeing the facility we all left there in a positive mood thinking this project would work in Webster for jobs, taxes, and a new approach to farming which Webster was once known for.

The day after the visit I instructed the Commissioner of Public Works to notify the surrounding neighbors to make them aware that a project of this size might come to Webster, but it was in the hands of the Intergrow as to whether or not to make a formal application to the Planning Board. He did meet with the neighbors in the weeks that followed.

As time went on, I had the Town Attorney review the current Deed of Conservation Easement that was signed by Mr. Mark Schreiber and Mr. Dean Schreiber in 2005, and to report to the Town Board if what Intergrow was proposing was legal on that site. He concluded that the growing of hydroponic tomatoes on that site was indeed a farming act under the easement, but in other areas of the conservation easement the language was not clear and precise. From the very beginning, the Town Attorney conveyed to the Town Board that this application might and could be decided by a judge in a court of law to determine the meaning of the Conservation Easement. 

In late 2015 Intergrow made a concept review presentation in front of the Planning Board to understand any concerns that the Planning Board might have. This meeting had its moments with a couple of residents loudly interrupting the meeting without regard to other residents there to understand what Intergrow was proposing.

What came out in the next few weeks was a lot of incorrect and just plain inaccurate information directed at the Town Board. It was reported that the land was Open Space and part of the $5.9 million bond approved by the town in 2004,  and that the Town Board was doing something illegal. After the Town Board showed what the residents actually voted for in 2004, and the land in question has development rights held by the town forever and not open space rights, that argument finally died down.

Then it was the question of the right of Mr. Dean Schreiber to sell the land at all. Well, it clearly states in the Conservation Easement that the brothers own the land outright and can sell the land for farming practices. Many said that greenhouses are not farming.  However, according to the Department of Agriculture and Markets, greenhouses are farming.

The Town Board was asked why we would ever allow such a project in our town.  My very simple answer to that is that the Town Board does not have a magic wand that we can just wave over any project to make it legally go away. Intergrow had a legal land contract to buy the land, the farmer could legally sell the land, the farming was allowed for hydroponic greenhouses, and the Town Board was not hearing the application because, by law, it would be in front of the Planning Board. The applicant (Intergrow) had a constitutional right, under the law, to have his project have a fair review in front of the Planning Board.  At no time did the Town Board have the right to stop the project review which would have put the Town Board in front of a judge for violation of his (Intergrow) civil rights.

There were still questions about the language in the Deed of Conservation Easement that the Town Attorney reminded us about, but the process had started and the project was in front of the Planning Board a couple of times at the Webster Recreation facility. This started the legal clock running and all summer the Town Board was trying to get a ruling from the United States Department of Agriculture on their interpretation of the easement language. I had spoken to Mr. Gregory Kist, State Conservationist, a couple of times, and also members of his staff, and for months all we were told was that, “we are going to send you a letter soon.” So the legal clock continued to roll and the Town Board, according to the Conservation Easement, needed to make a decision on having the project go forward.  We scheduled a Town Board meeting for September 29th to make that decision.

At 4:36 pm on September 29th, right before the Town Board meeting that night, I received an email that contained the letter from NRCS that I was promised all summer long. There was no time for the Town Board to review that letter with the Town Attorney before the meeting on the 29th and completely understand what they were saying about the many aspects of the easement. The Town Board went ahead with the meeting of September 29th and approved moving the project forward based on our reading of the Deed of Conservation Easement and the advice of our Town Attorney.

After the meeting we were able to review the letter from the NRCS and we sent an appropriate response to them on November 3, 2016. I called Mr. Kist and we talked a couple of times about both letters and scheduled a meeting with Intergrow on December 19th.  After that meeting the next move was up to Intergrow to continue with the process and have NRCS take action or concede to stop. From the WROC Channel 8 report, I see Dirk Bemans has decided to seek other options.

Now there are some around town saying that the Town Board should have stopped this project from happening a long time ago.  As I have clearly stated, Intergrow, like any other project in town, has a legal right to apply for a project permit if it meets the rules and regulations under the law in the Town of Webster. The Town Board cannot and will not interfere with the rights of these applications.

I have heard it many times that as your Supervisor I can stop this or do that because I am the Supervisor. This is just not true.  I am one person who works with four other Town Board members and we (together) make decisions based on the law and what is in the Webster Town Code. Nothing else matters to the five of us but the best interest of the Webster community under the law.

So it seems that this tomato project will not be coming to Webster and democracy worked as it should. If nothing else, some residents learned exactly how the process works with the good and bad from both sides.

As always, if you have any questions about your town government, please feel free to contact me during regular business hours at (585) 872-7068; or email me anytime at supervisor@ci.webster.ny.us  

Ronald W. Nesbitt

Supervisor