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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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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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