UPDATE: Batavia Committee Vote on Walgreens Issue Postponed
Although some members were in favor of a front setback variance, others want to get more details about the entire project before they cast their vote. Here are pictures, quotes and opinions raised during Tuesday's meeting.
After months of silence, the Batavia Walgreens project resurfaced on Tuesday during a Batavia city committee meeting.
But it might go quiet again for just a little longer, after a 90-minute discussion in which most aldermen revealed where they stood on the proposed new building.
After consulting with city staff, Austin Dempsey, Batavia Enterprises vice president, requested that the variance for a front-building setback issue be tabled until a later date so that the latest version of the proposal can be presented in detail.
Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke requested that the variance go before the committee members to get a sense of their support, or lack thereof, for the project. This variance, or exception to the Zoning Code, would allow the new Walgreens to be built further than the standard 10-ft. distance from Wilson Street. Walgreens officials said one of the components for their stores is to have parking near the main entrance.
Although the Committee only has seven aldermen on it, the other seven aldermen were also present at Tuesday's meeting to hear the information and be part of the discussion. All 14 aldermen will eventually vote on the Walgreens issue at a future City Council meeting.
Some of them warned Dempsey that they are not ready to vote "yes."
"Some of us could be swayed," said Alderman Jim Volk to Dempsey at the meeting. "You could sway Dawn (Tenuta), you could sway me. Walgreens is going to be here for another year ... It’s in your best interest (to provide more information)."
Dempsey said his next visit to the Council Chamber will include more details about the project. The main part of the proposal remains the same: Walgreens would move out of its current 138 W. Wilson St. site and into a new building at 122 W. Wilson. The store would be built on the spot where the former Prairie Path Cycles/Swanson's Hardware site is now.
"This has been a very fun relationship at times, it’s been a tested relationship at times … like all good relationships, we work together," Dempsey said of collaborating on the project with city staff and Walgreens. "We’ll do everything we can to make this happen."
"Where Is the Evidence?"
Alderman Jim Volk, who has been critical of aspects of the Walgreens project for some time, said he wanted numbers and more tangible information that made a convincing argument for the setback.
"Where is the evidence?" Volk said. "Where is the site survey, where is the traffic study? ... We're getting it in bits and pieces. I want to see the whole thing before I vote on it."
Mayor Schielke provided some anecdotal evidence for the project, courtesy of the residents of Riverain Point Apartments. The complex is located at 200 N. Island Ave., just north of Batavia City Hall.
"The one group that has been on the mayor’s telephone (about this) is the residents at Riverain," Schielke said." It never occurred to me how much value these folks placed on the drugstore."
Schielke said some of the residents have limited mobility or are confined to wheelchairs. Walgreens is a short walk down the street for them. The new store will be beneficial to Riverain residents due to the addition of fresh food and some produce.
Some of the Riverain residents otherwise cannot make it out to the pharmacies on Randall Road, Schielke said.
Alderman Bob Liva later countered that statement by saying that some prescription drugs are filled through mail order.
Liva said the city should encourage more pedestrian traffic to the downtown area. He cited U.S. Census data that indicated a trend of people moving back to cities to live in an urban setting that lends itself to walking. The rest of Batavia Plaza will never be built to the street if Walgreens builds as proposed, he said.
"We cannot sacrifice taxable short-term gains for long-term vision," Liva said.
Alderman Michael O'Brien stressed that no one wants to see Walgreens leave Batavia, but that they should remain on terms desired by the community.
"We need to have vision for the next 50 years," he said.
Aldermen, Women Declare Support for Project
Alderwoman Susan Stark was ready to vote in favor of the variance on Tuesday. She addressed the reality that city staff mentioned in their Sept. 7 memo—many residents use their cars to get to and from the downtown.
Stark asked which of the 14 aldermen biked or walked to City Hall from their homes for the meeting.
Only Alderman Volk raised his hand.
"I think I live the closest and I drove tonight," Stark said. "It's convenient and that's what we do."
Stark added that it was hypocritical of her fellow aldermen to question the Walgreens project when the majority of them approved changes for the new Batavia McDonald's, located just across the street from the proposed Walgreens site. The upgraded McDonald's store will be smaller than the previous version, and have a double drive-through to accommodate its many car-bound customers.
Alderman Alan Wolff also mentioned vehicle use, but in the downtowns of cities north of Batavia. He alluded to a giant parking lot that was built in front a grocery store, which could be interpreted as the lot in front of the Blue Goose Market in St. Charles.
"Unless we bulldoze everything from the back of the library to River Street ... we won't be doing new urbanism," Wolff said.
What Happens Next?
Batavia Enterprises will return to the city committee level and present the changes and revisions that have been made to the Walgreens plan since spring of this year. The plan initially included 11 variance requests, but many of them have likely been phased out with different site designs and are no longer necessary, City Administrator Bill McGrath said.
The extended setback still remains a key part of the project. If the City Council can come to a resolution on this and other aspects, it will still take about 7 to 10 months to build and open the new store. And Walgreens does not open new stores between Halloween and Valentine's Day.
"Walgreens wants to be on that site, that’s why they drove out to Batavia to meet with us," Dempsey said. "Ultimately they'd love to stay here."
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