BATAVIA – As far as the Batavia City Council is concerned, the size of the massive One Washington Place downtown redevelopment project has been settled.
City aldermen already have approved 186 apartments, a 350-space parking garage and more than 14,000 square feet of retail space.
The building will rise four stories on the North Washington Avenue side. At the west end of the sloping property, the building will stand six stories tall over North River Street.
But the Batavia Plan Commission has more than once voted against the project, most recently during what is termed the design review phase of the planning process, which is supposed to deal with the appearance of the building. Members of the Plan Commission contend the building is too big and too tall.
Aldermen want plan commissioners to make one more attempt to work with Geneva-based Shodeen Construction President Dave Patzelt to iron out the details at a meeting scheduled for May 3.
However, during a marathon committee meeting last week, aldermen made clear that the size and height of the building have been established.
Plan Commission Chairman Tom LaLonde told aldermen that the building is too big, and that Patzelt has not been cooperative.
“There was no indication of the developer wanting to work with us,” LaLonde said. “It’s just so out of scale with everything around it … We were looking for some compromise and we just weren’t getting it.”
Yet LaLonde expressed willingness to meet again with Patzelt. “Send it back, and we’ll give it some very serious consideration,” LaLonde said.
Patzelt also spoke before aldermen, and said he had compromised on many issues, including the design of the roofline, building materials and color, as well as adapting a suggestion to carve out a niche in the building at the corner of River and State streets, in order to create a pedestrian plaza and reduce the looming presence of the building.
Plan commissioners have suggested that the council undercut their efforts and their negotiating position with Shodeen by approving the redevelopment agreement before they had completed their own deliberations.
“We felt like we were behind the eight ball to begin with,” Plan Commission member Joan Joseph told the council.
Like at many previous council and Plan Commission meetings, a parade of residents spoke out, most against the project.
Aldermen repeatedly pointed out that it was they who had asked Patzelt to increase the number of parking spaces from the original proposal, and had accepted that from an economic standpoint, it would mean more apartments, and a larger, taller building.
Seventh Ward Alderman Drew McFadden expressed doubts that the planners and Patzelt would be able to work out their differences.
“Given what we’ve heard, it seems sending it back will just lead to more head-butting and wasted time, McFadden said. “That well has been poisoned with this particular project.”
Ultimately, the council, including McFadden, voted to send the design review back to the Plan Commission.
At the same committee meeting, aldermen approved the plat of survey for the development, combining several properties, all with buildings to be demolished, into a single legal entity.
These include the long-vacant Baptist church building and adjoining parking lot, an insurance office, dentist’s office, the ServiceMaster building and the city parking deck.
The full council was expected to approve the document at its April 17 meeting.
The cleared, unified property is expected to be handed over to Shodeen as early as June.
At the committee meeting, City Administrator Laura Newman said excavation on the project could start as early as August or September.
But after the meeting, an obviously exasperated Patzelt said this is no longer possible, blaming the delay on the design review process.
With aldermen leaving no doubt that the footprint and height of the building will not be altered, it was not clear why the design details would affect the start of excavation.