There's rural aplenty in these parts, but it doesn't get much more rural than Alabama.
With its wildlife refuge, Native American reservation, its hundreds of acres of open space, farmland and roads that can stretch for a mile or two between houses, Alabama is something like the wide-open West of Genesee County.
All of that could change -- or at least that's the fear of some Alabama residents -- if the GCEDC is able to push through plans to develop a high-tech industrial part over 1,300 acres in Alabama.
Alabama farmer Bryan Phelps -- who's grandfather started farming in Alabama in 1919 -- gave an impassioned speech to the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday arguing against the GCEDC's plans.
The project, known as STAMP, for Science and Technology Advanced Manufacturing Park, would forever alter the rural nature of Alabama, Phelps said.
"If you bring the STAMP program to the Town of Alabama then the same thing will happen here that happened in Clarence and Lancaster," Phelps said. "I know you might think nothing will happen, but it will be here and the houses will come and the farms will disappear and residential growth will occur, and our taxes go up and restrictions on farming practices increase."
Sure, we need the jobs, Phelps said, but at what cost?
GCEDC has projected that STAMP will create hundreds of jobs in the $15 to $25 per hour range, plus management positions that pay as much as $200,000 and add $500 million to the county's tax base.
Those are hard numbers to ignore, Phelps acknowledged, but he doesn't think farmland needs to be destroyed to make them happen. There are plenty of old, empty industrial buildings in Batavia and elsewhere in Western New York that can be renovated.
“It’s been said that rural development leads to rural destruction," Phelps said. "When development or destruction of rural farmland takes place, the needs for such services as schools, sewers, garbage collection, police forces, traffic control and water delivery go way up."
It's not hard to imagine housing development following STAMP, followed by new chain-laden shopping centers and pretty soon, you have Lancaster or Clarence.
Phelps wants none of that, and he said many Town of Alabama residents share his concerns.
The third-generation farmer found a sympathetic ear in Legislator Ed DeJaneiro, who sat down with Phelps after the Ways and Means Committee meeting was over and commiserated.
But DeJaneiro also noted, Genesee County needs jobs.
"I agree with him we on many of his concerns about this program," DeJaneiro said. "Prospective companies come in relying on tax dollars and end up using valuable land, but if we don't do it, somebody else will. We do need the jobs, so it's not as clear cut as he says."
Ray Cianfrini, who represents Alabama in the County Legislature, is pretty enthusiastic about the STAMP project and believes most Alabama residents support it.
"The land (for the project) is not considered the most productive land in Alabama," Cianfrini said. "It's owned by three of the largest farmers in our area. They certainly apparently had no reservations in taking the land out of production."
The final say on whether to approve the project, Cianfrini, will lie with the Town of Alabama board.