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Geneva City Council navigates special session on Wednesday despite getting ‘Zoom Bombed’

Geneva City Council held a special session Wednesday to deal with a pair of matters that the Council had approved at its May 6th meeting. It was necessary after the public was excluded from the prior session due to Finger Lakes Television terminating that night’s broadcast.

The meeting was once again held via Zoom conference call because of the COVID-19 crisis. In an effort to ensure that the public had complete access to the meeting, Geneva planned to provide access via their YouTube Channel, Facebook Live, by making the link to the Zoom meeting itself available, and via Finger Lakes Television. Ultimately, the City was unable to use the advertised YouTube Channel because it had not yet been verified by YouTube for live streams. However, Geneva took steps to inform the public in advance of this problem by posting a notice on the YouTube Channel and their Facebook page, and all of the other advertised means of access were available.

In an odd twist, Wednesday’s meeting was briefly interrupted by Zoom Bombers who exploited the screen sharing function to interfere with a presentation that was being made. The Council had to temporarily go out of session until the security breach could be resolved. The Council then restarted the meeting. Despite this interruption, the Council was able to maintain full public access throughout the meeting.

Wednesday, the Council first considered a resolution to sell a vacant parcel of land in the Geneva Industrial Park at Forge Ave-West to CCMI, Inc. for $70,000. The City of Geneva owns the property in partnership with the Ontario County Industrial Development Agency, and the Geneva Industrial Development Agency. The City of Geneva will receive 1/3 of the $70,000 sales price. CCMI requested to purchase the property due to an expansion of operations, which will result in the creation of new jobs. Councilmember Ken Camera (Ward 4) pushed the City to seek a right of first refusal to purchase the current property where CCMI is located once they vacate it. City Manager Sage Gerling agreed to ask CCMI for a right of first refusal in connection with their current property. The resolution was passed unanimously.

The second resolution scheduled a public hearing for June 3, 2020, to obtain input regarding applications for Federal Community Development Block Grant Program funds to assist two local businesses, CCMI, Inc., and Assured Edge Solutions, with relocation and expansion activities. City Manager Gerling clarified that these grants do not involve any expense to the City. The resolution passed unanimously.

The Council handled the two resolutions quickly. The Council next heard a presentation from the consulting firm of Barton and Loguidice regarding a proposed plan to the City of Geneva’s Zoning Code, which Mayor Steve Valentino indicated had not been updated in nearly 50 years. This presentation and resulting discussion lasted nearly two hours. It was this presentation that was interrupted at one point by Zoom Bombers who tried to take over the presenters’ slideshow.

City Manager Gerling introduced Molly Gaudioso and John Steinmetz from Barton and Loguidice who made the presentation. Barton and Loguidice developed their proposed Zoning Code plan based on information gathered from community input sessions and numerous stakeholder meetings.

The presentation indicated that the goal of the Zoning Code revision is to consolidate the code and make it easier to understand and use. Ultimately, Barton and Loguidice hoped to have a proposed code that created a scheme that ensured good design without being overly prescriptive. A second goal was to make the Zoning Code consistent with current land use in the City. For example, currently, 76% of residential parcels do not comply with existing zoning rules. If these parcels were to become damaged today, the City would have to grant a zoning variance just to rebuild them as the property is now. The proposed Zoning Code would alter the rules in a manner that would bring most of these parcels within compliance. This was accomplished through an adjustment to the lot size rules for various classes of properties.

An additional goal of the project was to redesign all of the zoning districts to accurately reflect both current and desired uses and neighborhood characteristics. Barton and Loguidice indicated that the current code does not provide for the “mom & pop” businesses operating in neighborhoods. Another issue is currently some business zoning districts expand into residential districts. The proposed code was developed to carefully draw the line between business and residential zones.

Barton and Loguidice also indicated that they have learned that the community wants to preserve the historic districts. However, the way the current Zoning Code is structured zoning districts do not correspond to historic districts. In addition, the current Zoning Code does not provide the City with a viable means of truly protecting historic districts. The proposed code would give the City a stronger ability to enforce zoning in the historic districts.

The Barton and Loguidice presentation ignited a lengthy discussion regarding zoning enforcement and the City’s desire to limit rental property. But ultimately, this presentation was just an initial overview of the proposal. Additional public sessions will be scheduled, including a public hearing, before the Council considers approving the proposed code. Consequently, Mayor Valentino suggested that Councilmembers take time to review the proposal and the data associated with it so that the Council can make an informed decision once the proposal is formally before it.