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Housing among issues in Batavia 4th Ward race

Published: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

BATAVIA – How to reduce problems associated with rental housing is one of the issues facing the two candidates in the race for 4th Ward alderman in Batavia.

Fourth Ward Alderman James Volk, who has been on the Batavia City Council for 18 years, is running against Batavia MainStreet board member Jamie Saam. Saam previously ran for the Batavia City Council in 2011.

Volk said problems associated with rental housing are a continuing problem in the 4th Ward.

“We seem to have a lot more legal noncomforming rental units,” he said. “That’s what I say are the bulk of the complaints from people that live over there, rental units with cars in the yard and trash everywhere and home maintenance issues.”

Saam said those types of problems happen on nonrental properties as well, “but we have to do what we can to protect the rest of the community.”

Volk said he wants to make Batavia more walkable and bikeable.

“We’ve got to get people out of their cars,” Volk said. “We want to get people out there, walking and enjoying the community. I walk down to City Hall all the time for every meeting, and I’m a fair weather bike commuter. It’s good exercise, and you save a gallon of gas a day. And that’s real money these days.”

Saam said she would like to increase public transportation options for residents.

“With us only having a Pace bus that goes on Route 31, I have quite a few people in my ward who commute and would love a bit of an easier way to get to the train, instead of having to drive everywhere,” Saam said.

They also have opinions on development plans for Walgreens, which plans to move its 12,650-square-foot store at 138 W. Wilson St. in the Batavia Plaza in downtown Batavia into a 15,000-square-foot building with a drive-thru just east of East China Inn in the shopping center.

The plans for the store have elicited debate because the store 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.

“Walgreens has asked for variances, and to my mind, they have not produced the evidence necessary for this front setback,” Volk said. “I’m willing to work with them, but they have not worked with us.

“They’ve made some presentations, and they keep coming back to the same thing. I’m willing to work very hard on it, but I don’t see the cooperation coming from the other side.”

Saam said she has been supportive of the Walgreens project since the beginning.

“I think the loss of it would be a tremendous loss to the city as a whole,” she said. “You do need those bigger, stable stores to attract other smaller businesses.”

Saam said she is in favor of the proposed setback.

“From watching the plan adjust through time, I think that Walgreens has done a really good job trying to work with the city and trying to adjust their plans,” she said.

They also had thoughts about how to keep electric rates stable in light of the city buying more power than it needs from the Prarie State power plant. The city has looked at selling off some power because it doesn’t need as much as expected because of the economic slowdown.

“Prairie State, and I don’t think a lot of people are grasping this, is a 30-year commitment,” Volk said. “It’s higher than the average market sometimes now. But it will cross over and be consistently cheaper in the not-too-distant future. When that happens, I don’t know.”

Saam said the city “can’t go back in time and erase what’s been done. It’s just a matter of the city selling the excess power if they can, and possibly selling more. The city can keep the rates stable by selling excess power and looking for alternate sources.”

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