BATAVIA – Whether the city needs to be more friendly to businesses is an issue in the race that features 6th Ward Alderman Robert Liva and challengers Nick Cerone and Ron Rechenmacher.
Liva has been on the Batavia City Council for eight years.
“The perception out there is that Batavia is not a business-friendly community,” Cerone said.
He used as an example the Walgreens redevelopment plans, which have been going through the city review process for more than a year. Walgreens wants to move its 12,650 square foot store at 138 W. Wilson St. in the Batavia Plaza into a 15,000 square foot building with a drive-thru just east of East China Inn.
The store’s plans have elicited debate because it would be set back about 70 feet from Wilson Street. The city’s zoning code requires a front building setback to be 10 feet or less.
“I don’t think we can just go to Walgreens and say, ‘Take it or leave it,’ ‘’ Cerone said. “We need to work with them and get a solution that works well for both of us. I certainly wouldn’t want to lose them as one of the largest tax-producing businesses downtown.”
Cerone also said he wants to see a more vibrant downtown.
“Nobody likes to drive downtown and see empty stores,” he said.
Cerone’s campaign manager, Kimberly Keating, is on the board of directors for the Batavia Chamber of Commerce. Batavia Chamber Executive Director Roger Breisch said the chamber doesn’t endorse candidates.
Cerone said his interests are in “representing all of my ward, not just one person or a small group.”
“I think it is extremely important that the City Council has a positive, working relationship with the Batavia Chamber, as well as Batavia MainStreet,” Cerone said. “That is one of the major issues of this election.”
Liva disagreed that Batavia is anti-business.
“Is that truly the way the Batavia Chamber of Commerce feels?” Liva asked. “Is that the way Batavia MainStreet feels? I feel that is a slap in the face to both organizations as well as the City Council. I think that is just an attempt to stir things up.”
Liva also said downtown Batavia is on the upswing.
“Vacancy in downtown Batavia was at 18 percent in 2006,” he said. “At the beginning of 2013, it’s 9 percent. So we’ve cut that vacancy rate in half. If you are unfriendly to business, how do you do that?”
In order to accommodate Walgreens’ plans, Liva noted that a four-foot pipe going from Depot Pond through the city-owned parking lot would need to be moved, potentially at a cost of up to $1 million.
“I cannot in my mind ask the taxpayers to spend $1 million to move a pipe that is functioning just fine for a development that does not meet the standards that the city has set,” Liva said.
He believes the city-owned property at Washington and Wilson streets in downtown Batavia, where the former First Baptist church currently sits, would be a better location for Walgreens’ new store.
Rechenmacher said he is worried about the tax burden on residents.
“Even though the economy is on a rise, there are still people suffering out there,” he said. “We shouldn’t just assume that everything can go with the consumer price index, or we can increase taxes at the same rate that the cost of living is increasing.”
He also said the Walgreens redevelopment project should move forward.
“The people think Walgreens is an anchor, and they definitely want to keep Walgreens downtown. That’s kind of like the bottom line,” Rechenmacher said.
He believes that three people are running for the 6th Ward seat because “City Hall has become somewhat disconnected from the residents.”
“They think they are making information freely available, and the population is saying they aren’t getting the information,” Rechenmacher said. “You have to be active instead of passive with some important information.”