It took the city's Zoning Board of Appeals more than 45 minutes Thursday to make motions, collect seconds and tally votes on five variances that clear the way for a new Dunkin' Donuts franchise on West Main Street, across from Redfield Parkway.
After a presentation by the project's engineer Kip Finley and comments from members of the public, all Redfield Parkway residents opposed to the project, it came time for the ZBA board to vote on the variance requests for parking, driveways, building placement and height.
Minutes would pass before a motion would be made, then a long pause before a second, and when the question was called, the votes came slow.
All of the variances were approved, but as Chairman Jeff Gillard confirmed later, the board wasn't really thrilled to be the final hurdle the developers need to clear to be able to proceed with the project.
"You can't go by emotion," Gillard said. "You've got to follow the law."
With no legal reason not to approve the variance requests, the board didn't have much recourse, even if they are sympathetic with the concerns of Redfield Parkway residents over potential traffic congestion in the area.
The traffic issues are not part of the ZBA's legal authority to consider.
On the fifth and final variance, allowing a 14-foot wide driveway to access the property from West Main, Board Member Emma Kate Morrill-Mahoney struggled with her vote. She's expressed concern that the angle still wouldn't prevent cars from trying to use it as an exit. The zoning code calls for a 20-foot wide driveway, but that width would probably make it even more likely that patrons would use it for an exit, causing traffic issues. So if Morrill-Mahoney voted no, causing disapproval of the variance on a tie vote, the driveway would have to be 20-foot. When she realized her vote would potentially only make matters worse, she decided to vote yes.
The Redfield Parkway residents who spoke uniformly raised concerns about traffic congestion.
"What does Dunkin’ Donuts have against the better neighborhoods in Batavia?" asked Donald Fryling. "First they build at the end of Ellicott Avenue, now they want to build at Redfield. What’s next, a donut shop on Naramore Drive?"
A Dunkin' Donuts at this location, between Barrett's Marine & Sporting Supplies and Five Star Bank, was first proposed a year ago and that proposal was rejected by city planners. Finley met with city staff and fashioned a new proposal to address the concerns of the city and the residents. The building will be Cape Cod style in design to better match the homes in the area; it's frontage will align with Barrett's to be a little more urban and less suburban sprawl in feel; and the driveways will be narrower to better channel traffic in the directions that least hinder the flow of traffic.
All of these changes necessitated approvals for variances from the ZBA, and since they were good faith efforts by the developer to address concerns, the ZBA couldn't just arbitrarily reject them.
Among the questions raised through the planning process is why Dunkin' Donuts in this location? Why not another location?
Franchisee Mike Mikolajczyk said it's simple, this location makes the most business sense.
"It's absolutely the best location we could have in the city," Mikolajczyk said.
There have been marketing studies and traffic flow studies and all of the data singles out this location as the best one currently available among all other options.
"It's a great intersection, a great area, that's why everybody wants to be there and that's why it's busy, and that's where Dunkin' goes, a busy area," Mikolajczyk said.
Finley said the next step in the process is completing the architectural drawings and completing the purchase of the property. The earliest the new shop could be open is prior to Christmas 2016.
Since a donut shop isn't a destination type of business, but a business that captures existing traffic, it's important to be where the traffic is, Mikolajczyk explained, and since it's not a destination, it won't add to traffic congestion, as some neighbors fear.
"I've visited with people in the neighborhood and they all have my phone number," Mikolajczyk said. "I don't' want to be a bad neighbor. I don't want to have people hate me before I even get in there, so I'm doing my best to be a good neighor and be a good businessman and asset to the neighborhood."
One reason the location is important to Mikolajczyk is that his current location -- on the corner of Ellicott Avenue and West Main -- does a great job of capturing eastbound traffic. It doesn't capture a lot of westbound traffic, and the new location will do that, he said.
Asked why this location instead of something on East Main, and Mikolajczyk kind of smiled. That may be coming, too, he said.