Plans to build a replacement Walgreens store in downtown Batavia moved closer to approval Wednesday night, with a city panel recommending it be allowed to have fewer parking spaces than city code requires.
The zoning board of appeals unanimously recommended granting that variance and several others. The recommendations were sent to the city council's community development committee, which will then make recommendations to the council.
The pace of the process came under fire from the board of directors of the Batavia Chamber of Commerce Wednesday.
Chamber board member Kim Keating said that normally, the chamber doesn't intervene or comment on the process of individual zoning issues. But the length of time it is taking to settle the Walgreens matter disturbs the chamber membership.
"The business community sees that it is difficult to do business with Batavia, so it looks elsewhere," she said, reading a letter. " ... We cannot be a city that is 'open for business' when it takes us over 11 months to make a business decision."
Batavia Enterprises, which owns the site, submitted plans last year, and the plan commission began consideration in January.
Resident Betsy Zinser, a critic of the plan, said business retention and growth are not the responsibilities of the zoning board and the plan commission, which conducted simultaneous hearings Wednesday.
Zinser said the variation would create a "special privilege" for Walgreens that she believes will hurt other businesses in the shopping plaza. "All the businesses in this area struggle with parking," she said.
Although the parking area near the plaza seems like one lot, it is a patchwork of private and city lots. The Walgreens development plan proposes some exchange of public and private parking.
Earlier this year the zoning board of appeals recommended against the reduced parking. But Wednesday night, it became clear there was a misunderstanding about just how much parking would be "lost."
City workers thought that under the new plan, Walgreens wanted to reserve 34 spaces for exclusive use by customers. So they recommended having Batavia Enterprises make up for that by providing parking on other sites it owns downtown, within 1,000 feet of this site.
Batavia Enterprises Vice President Austin Dempsey said that wasn't the case at all; anybody could use the parking spots near the new Walgreens, he said. All Walgreens wants is a guarantee there are at least 34 spots close to the building's entrance.
"It came to light tonight that the spaces wouldn't be exclusive to Walgreens. In my mind, that had been a misunderstanding," said Joel Strassman, the city's planning and zoning officer.
"This is a good plan; it has been a year of compromises," Dempsey said. Batavia Enterprises is already planning to give the city seven parking spaces on First Street where the old Batavia Bowl entrance was.
And zoning board of appeals Chairman Gene Schneider wasn't worried. "We're just trying to put this burden on Batavia Enterprises. I think there is plenty of parking downtown," he said.