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City shuts down further talk with downtown businesses, refers to current parking plan

By Joanne Beck
Phase I parking plan for downtown
Phase I parking plan at Alva Place and Bank Street in downtown Batavia.
Rendering submitted by City of Batavia

Downtown property owner Sharon Kubiniec made a return visit to City Council Monday evening to remind the elected leaders that, despite the good intentions and efforts made so far to rectify a parking issue around the new police station in progress, “we are not flourishing.”

Taken from the city’s mission statement to create and sustain a vibrant, affordable, safe community that includes a supportive environment where businesses continuously flourish, she emphasized that the last portion was certainly not true for those dozen small business owners since construction began a couple of months ago. 

Kubiniec also read through the city’s vision statement, countering with how life has been since work began in the parking lot at Alva Place and Bank Street in downtown Batavia several weeks ago. One portion that states, “our community members will be actively involved in the decision we made and active in bringing our plans to life,” was countered with, “We now know that in March of 2023, the negative state environmental quality review (SEQR) was approved by Batavia City Council. A negative SEQR means that the construction project has no negative effect on the environment,, traffic, and noise level of the area … that the parking lot surrounding the project area will remain open to the public.”

“Each affected business should have received direct notification of the proposed parking lot closure last summer when the plans were finalized. 

“You took 85% of our parking,” she said. “We bought these businesses because they had parking.”

“I just want to have a sit-down meeting where I can have a back and forth because I really do believe that you guys can give us answers that will put our fears to rest,” she said during the council’s meeting at City Hall.  “I’m not trying to be contentious with you. I'm just trying to gain information. And I don't know how this process works. I've never heard of a SEQR before … I’m just trying to gain information. I don't believe you understand the undue stress that this has placed on the businesses along Washington Avenue. We are all just trying to go to work, do our jobs and make a living every day as each patron, patient, employee and citizen of Batavia approaches us to complain about the egregious lack of parking in our offices.

“We still do not have handicapped parking. We appreciate the new plan to open up one row of parking. But I beg of you that you allow us to have a two-way conversation regarding the next two years, two years that will deeply affect our businesses,” she said. “I want to say my words very carefully because I have no ill will towards anybody. This has just affected my life immensely over the last couple of months. I'm not sleeping; I'm stressed to the max because my property value has changed when trying to sell a business, and that is all halted because our whole parking lot was closed off. That scares people; they don't want to buy businesses in downtown Batavia because they find out our city council can just close a parking lot without any warning.” 

She also said that one of their worst fears — patient safety being compromised by using Washington Avenue for handicapped parking — has already happened, with three people falling between their vehicles and the medical office to which they were headed.

“We have cameras on our sidewalks, and our sidewalks right now are being utilized 10 times more than they ever were before. So I have much more traffic on my particular property,” she said. I’m just begging you to have a meeting with the business owners to just sit down because, as I just did with (Police Chief Shawn Heubusch), he was able to put one of our fears to rest by telling us that the employees of the police department will not be parking on the outside, but they will be in that secured facility. So please just sit down with us. That’s all we’re asking. I’m not looking to break anybody; I’m not looking to attack anybody. I just want to get information so that we can put our minds at rest and assure our patients that they’re going to be in a safe environment.” 

Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr., a decades-long police officer and retired lieutenant who, in a prior meeting, said he thought some of the protests was in a tone of being against the new police station, asked if the business group had an attorney. Kubiniec said yes.  

Jankowski quickly referred the matter to City Attorney George Van Nest, who advised council that since the group had retained counsel that no discussions should take place. 

“Under the circumstances, since counsel has been retained, I would suggest to the council it's not prudent to engage in back and forth dialogue if there's a potential litigation threat,” Van Nest said. “The second thing I would say, council, is there was an update issued April 30, relative to phase one, phase two parking. There's nothing more to add to that at this point in time relative to timing. When there are further updates, they’ll be provided by the project team.”

The business group had initially attempted to seek answers from the city and encountered what it called “a gag order,” so it retained an attorney to file a Freedom of Information request so that all involved could read the SEQR and background materials and get those answers, Kubiniec told The Batavian. 

“The city responded that, ‘due to the volume of records involved, the city of Batavia will have records available by Sept. 6, 2024.’ This was a disappointing response given that these records are mostly electronic and typically available within 20 days,” she said. 

Kubiniec commended Heubusch for being willing to take time and answer some of her questions before the meeting began. 

The Batavian reached out to the two at-large council members, Bob Bialkowski and Rich Richmond, and Jankowski for further comment about why the elected city leaders won’t talk to the business owners and if they feel they are representing the city’s vision statement for businesses.

Jankowski passed those questions on to City Manager Rachael Tabelski, who responded later Tuesday afternoon. 

“We have engaged in various and multiple discussions with the business owners; the fact is that the business owners have retained counsel, and it would not be prudent for the City to engage in any further dialog at this time,” she said. “We have been open and transparent regarding the plans for the police station and the accommodations the City is making to assist the impacted businesses, which we will continue to do when practical.”

Bialkowski responded to The Batavian and said that “I sympathize with the business owners,” but that it seemed as though the city had done all it could do at this point. He believes that a front row of parking to be used for those with disabilities will be available to those businesses. He didn’t understand, however, why the two sides couldn’t talk just because the business owners have an attorney, as many professionals do. 

Richmond did not respond to a request for comment.

The city released an updated parking plan on April 30 in an effort to compromise with its initial layout, which restricted parking for the cluster of businesses along Washington Avenue and State Street. At that time, Dr. Adam Gregor said that while he appreciated the effort, he didn’t believe it was really enough of an improvement. Kubiniec said it was “a step into the right direction” but did need more moving forward. 

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