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Local

Legal maneuver delays Batavia council vote on Campana

Legal maneuver delays council vote on Campana

Robert Byrnes speaks to the Batavia City Council on Nov. 6. Byrnes, of Batavia Avenue Properties LLC at 1950 and 2000 S. Batavia Ave. in Geneva, filed the legal protest to Evergreen Real Estate Group's apartment proposal for the neighboring Campana building.
Robert Byrnes speaks to the Batavia City Council on Nov. 6. Byrnes, of Batavia Avenue Properties LLC at 1950 and 2000 S. Batavia Ave. in Geneva, filed the legal protest to Evergreen Real Estate Group's apartment proposal for the neighboring Campana building.

BATAVIA – The Campana building apartment saga took yet another twist as the Batavia City Council decided to delay its final vote until Nov. 20.

With nine aldermen in favor of Evergreen Real Estate Group’s plan for 80 apartments inside the landmark structure and five opposed, the council had been expected to approve the controversial plan at its Nov. 6 meeting.

That was the case until a contiguous property owner filed a written protest three days ahead of the council vote.

If the legal protest is deemed to be valid, it will require that the zoning amendments for the Campana plan be approved by a two-thirds majority, meaning 10 of the 14 aldermen.

The result was a dramatic and, at times, chaotic council meeting.

Evergreen Director of Development David Block asked aldermen to table their vote for two weeks in order for his legal team to evaluate the legality of the protest.

Acknowledging that his proposal will fail if it must meet the 10-vote threshold, Block said he is preparing a redesigned plan that would address the objections of the five council opponents.

Mark Schuster, an attorney serving as the city of Batavia’s special legal counsel for the Campana project, said he still is researching the validity of the protest.

“I am not prepared to tell you one way or another,” Schuster told aldermen.

Robert Byrnes of Batavia Avenue Properties LLC, at 1950 and 2000 S. Batavia Ave. in Geneva, filed the protest with the Batavia Community Development Department.

Batavia Avenue Properties shares a property line along the north and northwest sides of the Campana site located at 901 N. Batavia Ave. in Batavia.

Second Ward Alderman Marty Callahan, an opponent of the project, said the protest should have been anticipated with a legal opinion at the ready.

Aldermen voted, 10-4, to table the vote. Among the project’s opponents, only 1st Ward Alderman Scott Salvati voted to delay the decision.

At that point, the large crowd that had come to witness the proceedings began to file out of the council chambers, when Batavia resident Bob McQuillan rose and demanded that the council open the floor to public comment.

People stopped and stood to hear the exchange between McQuillan and Mayor Jeff Schielke, who wanted to move to the next item on the council agenda.

Finally, aldermen voted to take public comment, with four Campana proponents voting against the move.

As McQuillan then took the council floor, people began returning to the room and retaking their seats.

McQuillan, who was an unsuccessful candidate for Geneva mayor when he was a resident of that city, declared that Byrnes’ protest is valid.

That set the stage for Byrnes, who came forward to explain his reasons for filing the protest.

“The law recognizes that neighbors are important,” Byrnes said. “When unusual situations arise … a simple majority is not enough.”

Byrnes has been attending and speaking out during the Campana hearings all along, contending that the project will create unacceptable traffic problems at the Route 31 and Fabyan Parkway intersection and for his own office building property to the north.

Byrnes said Evergreen’s proposal for income-restricted apartments is not the basis for his objection.

“It’s getting in and out safely that is the problem,” Byrnes said.

McQuillan got up and spoke again, this time telling aldermen that they should be voting only on the zoning amendments, and not on a desire to provide low-income housing in the community.

“You have not been asked to vote on that,” McQuillan said.

City Hall sources said there may be technical issues with Byrnes’ protest, including property identification numbers listed on the petition.

In any case, several aldermen said Block now is working on a proposal that would eliminate the about 25 ground-floor apartments planned at the front of the building.

Under the existing plan, those units would have operable windows installed just below the line of glass block that it is one of the 1936 factory building’s distinctive features.

Opponents on the council say those units would provide poor living conditions.

Instead, Evergreen would construct an apartment addition on the northwest side of the property, while leaving the first floor of the main building for business use.

After the meeting, Block declined to comment on the specifics of the potential redesign proposal.

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