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UPDATE: Batavia Walgreens Zoning Issue Still Unresolved

The Zoning Board of Appeals will meet again in March to take up the needed exception to build the proposed downtown Walgreens. Many residents spoke passionately on the issue during a public hearing Wednesday night.

The future of the downtown Batavia Walgreens is still up in the air.

After a public hearing on Wednesday at that lasted about three-and-a-half hours, the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals did not take a binding vote on one of the exceptions to the Zoning Code needed to build a new Walgreens.

What the Zoning Board did do was take a non-binding straw poll that revealed at this time how they feel about the exception, which is a Walgreens storefront setback of more than 77 ft. from Wilson Street. The vote was 4-3 in favor of recommending the exception, or variance.

“I like the plan…. I know it’s not up to what we expect, but maybe what we expect is impractical in today’s car-driven world,” said Zoning Board member Ed Weiss.

Other Board members disagreed, citing a lack of time spent with the proposal. Karen Kosky, board vice-chair, was not in favor of the variance.

“We need to be patient,” Kosky said. “I don’t want to act out of panic.”

The Board will take up the issue again in March, where they will have to adopt a group of required findings before they finally vote on a recommendation.

The Zoning Board’s vote will be just one in a series of votes leading to a final City Council decision on the Walgreens plan. The proposal is to at 122 W. Wilson St., just across the way from its in Batavia Plaza.

has worked for two years on and off with city staff on the Walgreens proposal. The current proposal before construction can begin.

The Zoning Board focused on the setback variance on Wednesday. In a Feb. 17 memo to the Board, the city staff said it could not recommend approval of the setback variance for various reasons.

Despite the city’s staff concerns, Batavia Enterprises’ Vice President remained positive about the proceedings at the end of Wednesday’s public hearing,

“I’m encouraged we got 4 yeses and 3 no’s,” Austin Dempsey said. “I’m delighted to keep working with staff on developing a plan for the downtown Walgreens. I am exceptionally excited for what this represents for the future development of downtown Batavia.”

At least one resident also saw promise in the Board’s straw poll, but wished their actual votes were already taken.

“I’m disappointed that they will have to go … discuss and have the potential to change that (poll) vote,” said Jamie Saam, manager of the Rendezvu restaurant downtown. “I don’t think it’s a panic to make a decision now. I think it’s a smart decision.”

Residents Voice Their Choice on Walgreens

Saam was one of 22 residents who addressed the Zoning Board during Wednesday’s public hearing.

At least 16 were clearly in favor of the proposed Walgreens plan, and four were opposed to the plan.

Several business owners spoke of the economic importance Walgreens holds for the downtown area.

“I think it would be a huge error to risk losing our biggest anchor,” said Rob Hollis of K. Hollis Jewelers. Hollis has considered moving from Randall Road to downtown, but lack of parking remains an issue.

Jim Kirkhoff, director of development for Water Street Studios, said the proposed Walgreens plan has many positives in its building design and economic potential.

“Look at all the things that are right with it,” Kirkhoff said. “Overall this is a comprehensive solution.”

Despite Dempsey’s claims that the current plan represented concessions on Walgreens’ part, some residents disagreed.

“If Walgreens wants a privileged 50-year spot, then they better act like it,” said Robert B. Liva, oldest son of Ward 6 alderman Bob Liva. “I just think we can do a better job.”

Alderman Liva also thought the current plan as proposed was unacceptable.

Gerry Dempsey, chairman and CEO of Batavia Enterprises, closed out the public comments with an unplanned speech.

“If you don’t have a strong retail base downtown to support downtown businesses, these amenities don’t work,” he said of features such as added landscaping and bike racks. “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. Work with us.”

A Detailed Process

So why wasn’t the Zoning Board of Appeals able to make a recommendation for the Walgreens variance on Wednesday?

Before a recommendation is made, the Zoning Board needs to adopt what’s known as the findings of fact. These findings have to be in writing and address criteria such as unique circumstances applicable to the property and that the variance will not be detrimental to people who live and work in the area.

The need for findings was mentioned in the city’s original Feb. 17 memo for the public hearing, but they did not come to light until the end of Wednesday’s public hearing.

What’s Next?

If the Zoning Board reaches a conclusion on the variance in March, the Community Development Committee would review the proposal at some point. Then the Batavia City Council would take final action on the variance.

It is important to note that this is all just for the front setback variance for the proposed Walgreens. The committees and alderman will address the variance first because it is considered by all involved parties to be the most crucial aspect of the proposal.

A City Council vote addressing the setback variance would effectively determine whether the current plan for a new Walgreens moves forward, or dies.

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Bulldog Pride February 23, 2012 at 04:07 PM
I was very impressed by the Batavia Enterprises Inc. presentation at the meeting. I think that they really did their homework for this one before the public hearing. The meeting was full of people stricken by fear of the BEI propagated idea that the downtown would fold and sink into oblivion if Walgreens left. Fear mongering at it's best
Robotica De La Madre February 23, 2012 at 07:19 PM
Wow, denial isn't just a river in Egypt. Ever walk down River street or notice the empty store fronts around downtown? Most of McDonald's traffic is drive through and the only business that gets a lot of people out of their cars downtown is Walgreen's. Since we’re not going to have a rec center downtown, Walgreen’s really is the only thing doing it. Also, the second one of the major anchors downtown became a McDonald’s the possibility of a “boutique” downtown was drop kicked out the window. A high end Walgreen’s and a high end McDonald’s are the best down town can do. Tack on the street scape and the higher end retail and residential will filter in.
Tom Gorr February 23, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Amazing that a Walgreens gets all this attention yet the annexation of Mooseheart (and the hundreds of homes to eventually be built on that property) sails through with little publicity or public outcry....wonder which will ultimately have the bigger impact on Batavia and its residents? Guess that's what happens when your town is led by a real estate agent!
Tom Gorr February 23, 2012 at 10:07 PM
Maybe they should put the Walgreens on Moosetavia land! Batavia Enterprises is not the problem here. They have shown themselves to be responsible corporate citizens....look to civic "leadership" for answers!
Dan Heckle February 23, 2012 at 10:34 PM
Having lived in the adjacent communities and spending a lot of time in Batavia, I've gotten to love it. The bike friendly atmosphere and the development of a pedestrian friendly downtown has made for exciting weekend trips from my in-laws place in Geneva to Batavia and back. I'm excited for the new Walgreen's to come in and launch the rejuvenation of the downtown area. I didn't get the same fire and brimstone from the BEI presentation that Bulldog Pride did. When the Walgreen's lease is up and with 3 successful stores in close proximity, it would make good business sense to drop the weaker store altogether. For BEI to be able to get Walgreen's to the table and be able to inspire Walgreen's to invest in the downtown and believe in our potential is great! Kudos to the Dempsey's! The PowerPoint was cogent and clearly laid out the reasons urging the city to allow variance's to the Streetscape Plan. The great part about a 'plan' is that they are intended as a guide. Setting the building back 77 feet or even100 feet would allow for a nice transition from the MAIN STREET to the beautifully designed and unique new Walgreen's Store. Some people are fearful of change and reject change, but fail to see the atrophy. Others learn to embrace change and help to create a better place. I look forward to grabbing a bottle of water and piece of fruit at Walgreen's before sitting down in front on the parkway to enjoy the Batavia Loyalty Parade in 2013.
Batavia4Life February 24, 2012 at 12:20 AM
Have you seen the condition of the current strip mall? the parking lot? the entrances? the facades?Hmmm... People have to remember who financially profits from this venture and who will ultimately own it. I agree with Bulldog Pride - definitely a lot of hyperbole at the meeting last night. The sky will open and the sun will shine down on Batavia if Walgreens builds their new building with all 11 variances and $450,000 in TIF money. If not, we're doomed! I also agree with Tom - put Walgreens on the Mooseheart corner where there is actually space for parking and a drive thru! Make downtown pedestrian friendly and community oriented. Just because we made mistakes in the 60s and 70s, doesn't mean they need to be repeated. History should be a lesson!
Batavia4Life February 24, 2012 at 03:44 AM
Avctually parking is a major issue. It's not empty - especially in the summer. The flow of traffic is a major concern. There will be backup on Wilson as cars try to enter the plaza and then turn left to park in the proposed lot. The new plan will allow cars to exit on Wilson as well. Plus there will be cars going around a drive thru. If you think Wilson is backed up now! You haven't seen nothin'! I'm surprised more people aren't talking about the issue. My guess is that not many people have actually looked at plan 14.
Jonnette Samantha Huntley Mix February 24, 2012 at 06:01 AM
Having watched this back-and-forth for over a year, it has all boiled down to parking in front or back. The downtown master plan that relegates all parking to the side or rear of a building was shortsighted at best. For a town built on a well-managed tenet of progress and fiscal responsibility, that plan really stinks. Well, cars will never go away. Walgreens will. And a drive-through largely ELIMINATES THE NEED FOR EXTRA PARKING SPOTS anyway. (How do I know this? I work at a Walgreens drive-through.) This is a no-brainer. No. Brainer. Do you want an attractive streetscape or Wag$$$$$? You CAN have both.
Terrence Pogge February 24, 2012 at 08:07 AM
Anyone who claims that the Wednesday night presentation contained “hyperbole” or “fear mongering” is either profoundly stupid or is as out of touch with reality as the people who want to recast Batavia as “Oak Park.” You can try to use zoning codes to force private business to execute these half-baked "community development" plans (that you are completely impotent to accomplish yourself as you have no business backing), but the reality is that if this is not a good opportunity for Walgreens, they can leave. Will downtown Batavia cease to exist if that happens? Probably not. However, it is not exactly a flourishing economic center as it is. I suspect that losing the business that draws the most people to downtown Batavia on a daily basis (Walgreens) will not help things much. Also, in terms of the pedestrian issue; We are not in a Chicago neighborhood where most everyone walks or takes public transportation. We are a suburb and most of us drive. You can force business to be 10 feet from the curb all you want, it will not make us into an urban neighborhood.
thefunkychicken February 24, 2012 at 12:41 PM
The master plan is 30 years to late. Batavia has the worst planning in the valley. Historic buildings being torn down for empty lots. Buying a church to straighten out a state high way which never will happen. This city does things three times and still fails. How many times have you seen the same side walks rebuilt , the new bridge being worked on,( has anyone noticed water leaking on the south west side of the bridge leaking up from the sub structure?) I have read about discussions on fairly new construction being ripped out for bump outs. River street being redone again with less parking. This Walgreens project will take years to work out. To many cooks in the kitchen and the old boys network will doom this venture. Has any else notice all the small river side homes on 25 being bought up and torn down for a bridge that is not even be approved to be built. The city is all hot to develop Mooseheart property and the old Seimans site sits empty like a concrete wasteland. No pressure on them to even plant grass.
Batavia4Life February 24, 2012 at 12:57 PM
The reason Batavia is an eyesore today is because of the decisions made by Batavians, the city and Batavia Enterprise in the 60s and 70s. The addition of the McDonalds and the strip malls along Wilson and Island have contributed to the problems with use and pedestrian traffic (and are eyesores!). There are plenty of models and analyses used to determine "best use" for downtowns. The tax base in Batavia is Randall Road and even the several business parks on the east side. Of course tax revenue is very important, but making the same mistakes that got Batavia in the place where it is today will not improve downtown. It's easy to add a Walgreens. It's another bandaid but it doesn't improve our community. This is not just about parking in front. It's about having yet another drive thru in the downtown. Terrence is correct - people don't walk in our downtown (unlike our neighboring downtowns) because of poor planning decades ago. The idea is to fix the problem while Batavia is in this very fragile state. Adding a drive thru Walgreens in the middle of a parking lot is not an improvement. Samantha is correct when she, a Walgreens employee, states that the drive thru reduces some of the parking needs. Well then why does Walgreens insist on 33 spots right by the front door? And we want people to get out their cars, shop at Walgreens and stop at Daddios or Panera for a meal. Not just drive thru. We want them to support our businesses in our downtown not just the corporate chain.
Batavia4Life February 24, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Ya know, I am not 100% sure, but I don't think that the city actually needs voter approval for a bridge. If not, that was a mistake to take it to the voters when they did. They should have just built it. I could be wrong on that - but that's my memory of what happened. I can't believe the people of Batavia voted against that second bridge. And then people blame the city - I don't get it! And believe me, I am not trying to defend the decisions the city and the aldermen have made over the past several decades. They have made egregious errors in the urban planning of our downtown! But the people are to blame too. That's why I am so concerned that Batavia will let Batavia Enterprise slap another drive thru in our downtown. It WILL NOT improve our downtown! There is even chance that it's expanded market will cause some of the smaller businesses to close up shop. It's banking on an expanded market - where is it going to come from? Is the Sieman's property public land? I thought it was private property. I don't think we want the government going in and planting grass on people's property! Do we? I don't know, maybe we do... I think you should look up the property owner and suggest to them that they improve it. I agree with you - it looks terrible. But don't blame the city - they have enough to worry about!
thefunkychicken February 24, 2012 at 03:29 PM
If these structures were to dangerous to leave standing why were they not red tagged as to dangerous? Its a land grab pure and simple. Some of these homes just had improvements done. Granted they were small homes they still contributed to the tax base. What was the rush to get them into park district hands? Any way the point remains the same the city will find a way to screw this up.
Terrence Pogge February 24, 2012 at 04:49 PM
I don't know that the current Walgreens location (the strip mall) and the McDonalds are the cause of people not walking in downtown Batavia. We're a suburb. People walk in the city neighborhoods because of all the things I pointed out. People do drive on third street and in downtown Geneva. There is simply enough street parking and small lots to (mostly) accommodate it (plus the garage near the train station, which does add parking capacity on the weekends and at night). People drive in downtown St. Charles. They park on the side streets and in the two garages that have been erected in the last few years. Also, let's not forget that both Geneva and St. Charles have developed businesses on both the West and East sides of the Fox River. Batavia hasn't, and it is probably related to the same unrealistic goals being shoved down the community's throat by yet another (past) government committee. Again, chasing off one of the few successful business in the Batavia downtown area will do nothing to help downtown development.
Batavia4Life February 24, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Clearly we will not come to an agreement on this issue - it's ok. I am not even suggesting that Walgreens leave downtown. I like Walgreens. If I am at Daddios, Panera or the farmers' market I will pop in and buy a few items. It is convenient. But I don't agree that it is an anchor or a destination. Our anchors are the library, the riverwalk, city hall, and even Panera. My hunch is Walgreens is counting on increased market shares in produce, liquor and other convenience items. They will get that share from the 3 locally owned liquor stores or our only grocer in downtown. Do people really want to kowtow to a corporation and sell out our local businesses? Let's support our local businesses, let Walgreens stay - but on OUR terms. Have vision and courage! We shouldn't sell ourselves short. This is about improving the downtown - let's work together to make it better. And I disagree with your characterization of all suburbs - I think you are describing bedroom communities. But that is not the case along the Fox River. People DO walk in Geneva to shop. And they bar/restaurant hop in St. Charles. I challenge you to sit on a bench one sunny afternoon in Geneva and take a look. Or a nice night in St. Charles - you'll see what I mean! Batavia will never be a Geneva - nor do I want it to be. I love Geneva and I park my car and shop downtown there whenever I can. But it doesn't mean Batavia needs to be a wasteland of drive thrus and strip malls. We should fight for better.
Terrence Pogge February 24, 2012 at 06:17 PM
Actually, I agree that people do walk in downtown Geneva and St. Charles. Although, I do not see how. All they have are sidewalks and crosswalks. That isn't nearly as "pedestrian-friendly" as the Batavia Planning Committee would like things. At least Geneva and St. Charles don't have any streets going through their downtown areas like Batavia has. OH WAIT! They do (Rt. 38 and Rt. 64, both of which I am confident arguing see drastically larger traffic volumes than Wilson street). So, the argument is that the strip mall (no plural "s" as what other strip mall are we referring to? Is McDonalds now a strip mall?!?) is what is making things unsafe/udesirable for pedestrians? So, if Walgreens was in, say a two-story building ten feet from the curb like Koske fantasizes about, you are saying people would suddenly stop driving there and start walking? I disagree. So the issue is that you only want boutique shops and not an evil corporation? There are all ready plenty of open storefronts and apparently no one is interested. Or is this a "build it and they will come" mentality? Sure. that is fine to you as long as you don't have to put up the capital to fund it. The "better" I'm fighting for is less of these asinine zoning laws and more successful business in the downtown area.
Batavia4Life February 24, 2012 at 06:45 PM
Sorry, I didn't mean to be vague. There are 3 strip malls in downtown Batavia between Rt 31 and the bridge (is that 4 blocks?). The one on Wilson that holds the current Walgreens and then the two that flank Island (one has Aliano's and the other has Batavia Creamery). The all have parking in the front, which is counter to decent downtown planning. This is what we have allowed developers to put in our downtown over the past several decades - and the McDonalds. Were we asleep? I am not sure! As I have repeated on several occasions, and I will here again, I am not opposed to having a corporate business in downtown Batavia. I am opposed to succumbing to their demands. Not sure why Terrence perceives Batavia's zoning laws are arbitrary yet Walgreens insisting on specific parking spots in specific spaces in a sea of parking is reasonable. But, I am 100% certain that Terrence and I will not agree on this issue. And, that's fine. Here is the plan, if anyone cares to take a look. http://www.cityofbatavia.net/content/articlefiles/9423-PC-ZBA%20Walgreens%202-17-12%20attach.pdf
Terrence Pogge February 24, 2012 at 08:11 PM
I don't wish to belabor the discussion, but the question of my aversity to the zoning laws is a fair one. Unless the zoning laws are minimally restrictive, and unless they are *not* written to force businesses to carryout someone's crazy scheme (like this Oak Park nonsense), they will create issues that everyone except the most out-of-touch people understand. To respond to these issues, they allow variances, and then you have arbitrary zoning laws that are decided at the sole discretion of the zoning board, who probably wrote the garbage to begin with. In terms of Walgreens wanting to dictate their own parking, IT'S THEIR BUSINESS. Sure, the zoning committee under these codes can deny this, and Walgreen's can tell Batavia to "shove it," close the Batavia store, and set up shop somewhere else (even the most overreaching city governments can't stop that). However, I question what will happen after that. Another Fortune 500 company going to rush in to kowtow to the city? Doubtful. Small bussiness going to find the money to raze the building and rebuild it as per the zoning commissions desires? More doubtful. A developer like BEI going to develop the site to please the zoning board with the hope of someday getting a return on their investment? That will not happen. Thanks for posting the link to the plan. I hope everyone reads it so the can make an informed decision.

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