BATAVIA – After almost a year of scrutiny, the proposal to tear down and rebuild the Walgreens store in downtown Batavia has cleared its first hurdle at City Hall.
The Batavia Zoning Board of Appeals on Wednesday recommended the Batavia City Council approve several zoning variances that would allow developer Batavia Enterprises and retailer Walgreens to reduce the number of parking spaces required for the new store, and to allow the developer to construct the new building away from Wilson Street.
"This is the first hurdle this project needed to get over," said Batavia Community Development Director Scott Buening. "But it's a big hurdle."
The project has worked its way through the city development approval process since February, when a city panel first publicly reviewed plans submitted by Batavia Enterprises.
The project, however, has generated controversy since, as hundreds of community residents have signed petitions to oppose and support the project, as many believe the project will help set a tone for future development in Batavia's downtown.
In April, after several meetings with city planning officials, Batavia Enterprises postponed further consideration of the project throughout the summer to allow its designers more time to refine the plans to better fit city zoning rules and desires.
However, Batavia Enterprises restarted the zoning review process in September, still seeking the variances – or special allowances granted by the city allowing certain projects to include elements that might otherwise violate zoning rules.
The project, however, has been further complicated by the need for Batavia Enterprises to acquire a city-owned parking lot behind the current Walgreens building to make the new building, which will include a drive-thru pharmacy, fit on the site.
Batavia Enterprises is also seeking about $450,000 in tax increment finance money from the city to offset some of the project's estimated $3 million cost.
On Wednesday, Batavia zoning officials agreed to relent on the need to require the developer to provide 53 additional parking spaces. Instead, they agreed to let Batavia Enterprises provide only an additional seven off-street spaces.
City Planner Drew Rackow said the disagreement over the parking spaces had been sparked by confusion over just how many parking spaces along the new Walgreens store would be available for public use vs. those reserved exclusively for Walgreens customers.
When developers noted that 34 Walgreens spaces were to be for public use, Rackow said zoning officials relented.
Buening said the project will next be discussed on Dec. 11 by the City Council's Community Development Committee, which will discuss the potential sale of the city parking lot, as well as how to proceed on the project.
"There are several aspects to this project, that make it even less straightforward than even a typically complex downtown project," Buening said. "They need to decide if they want to tackle the land issue first, or the zoning decisions, or whether they'll try to take it all at once."