After three years of consideration, the building of a new Walgreens store in downtown Batavia was approved Monday night.
The city council voted 8-4 to sign a redevelopment agreement with Batavia Enterprises Inc., wherein BEI will receive $1.143 million in financial aid to build a store at 122 W. Wilson St., on the site of a former hardware store.
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"This has been a three-year, up-and-down, through-the-loops and over-the-falls" issue, Mayor Jeff Schielke said after the vote. He praised BEI for its 54-year history of doing business in downtown Batavia and said aldermen's arguments had improved the original proposal.
"This was a struggle. At the end of the day, if your hearts are in the right place ... we really hopefully have put something together that people will think, 'Batavia didn't do a bad thing here,'" he said.
Alderman Michael O'Brien reiterated, before the vote, that he thinks the city was "mortgaging our future for our downtown" with the financial aid. The money will come out of property taxes collected in a tax-incentive financing district on downtown properties -- taxes above a frozen amount that goes to local governments -- and not the city's general fund. Walgreens will receive up to $450,000 as it knocks down the hardware store and builds the new store, and the rest in annual payments of $65,000.
Walgreens has agreed to a new 25-year lease with BEI. It wanted a drive-up lane, something not possible with its current location in a strip mall BEI owns right next door. Some aldermen and residents believe Walgreens would close if it couldn't get the store it wanted.
"I don't think the city would just fall apart because Walgreens left our town," O'Brien said, adding he was sure Batavia Enterprises would be able to find another tenant.
Aldermen Lucy Thelin Atac, Lisa Clark and Garran Sparks also voted against it. Alderman Kyle Hohmann was absent, and Alderman Steve Vasilion recused himself from the discussion and the vote because BEI is one of his architectural clients.
The store received several variances to city laws, including having parking in front of the building. The city's code and its downtown master plan call for buildings to be close to the street and parking to the rear.
The city also gave a lot it owns to BEI and agreed to remove an easement for public parking in front of the Batavia Plaza. Overall, the whole plan will have even less parking than city code requires.
Sparks tried to get the deal amended to put in writing that all parking had to remain open to the public forever, with no designation of spaces for stores' customers, but that motion failed.
O'Brien also voted against granting a conditional use permit for the store to have a drive-up lane for pharmacy orders. He said it went against Batavia's efforts to make the downtown more suited to pedestrians.