Calling it “a horrible idea,” Batavia businessman Jerry Arena tonight urged the Town of Batavia Planning Board to turn down a proposal by Benderson Development LLC to construct two restaurants on the parking lot of the former Kmart on Lewiston Road.
Arena was the lone town resident to speak at a public hearing on the Buffalo-based company’s request for special use permits for the drive-thru lanes of the yet-to-be disclosed retail operations. The planning board made it clear prior to the meeting that no action would be taken on the venture tonight.
Benderson is looking to build a 4,000-square-foot restaurant with a drive-thru and bypass lane at one end of the parking lot and a 6,752-square-foot retail/restaurant building with a 2,000-square-foot endcap coffee shop and drive-thru at the other end – both along Lewiston Road (Route 63).
Matthew Oates, engineering director, and Katherine Rowe, design engineer, for Benderson Development opened the meeting by giving a quick update on the company’s plans, mentioning an increase in the green space and landscaping, putting in new curbing and pavement, updating utilities and ensuring sufficient stacking space in the drive-thru lanes.
They said they are waiting on the completion of a traffic impact study – information necessary to keep the project moving forward.
Arena questioned if there would be enough parking spaces left over to accommodate shoppers once another business was found to occupy the former Kmart building.
After that, he was given the podium and articulated his concerns for about 15 minutes, visibly upset but able to keep his anger in check.
PROPOSAL 'AFFECTS' ALL CITIZENS
Armed with several documents, including the project application, Arena said “the mere fact that I got one (a notice of the public hearing) represents the fact that this special use permit affects my property at 8360 Lewiston Road (Jerry Arena’s Pizzeria) and my neighbors – the gun store, the car dealership, Calvin Nichols, the land that I have on Arena Parkway facing Lewiston Road.”
“I just shake my head when I see this and I'm trying not -- if I act like I'm going to be angry, if I'm perceived as I'm angry, it's because I really am. I'm just flabbergasted that this would get this far.”
Arena, citing an already congested traffic area and safety concerns, said that putting these new businesses at the front of the parking lot affects all residents of the town and city of Batavia and Genesee County.
“It affects them when they do their holiday shopping,” he said. “People who I talk to logically, and I say logically, assume that these three new businesses … it’s two buildings, three businesses. They logically assume that when the hear the news, they’re going to go into the old Kmart, which would be the best spot for them.”
He went on to say that he doesn’t “feel sorry for Benderson” because they can put the businesses in (the Kmart building).
“I don’t care how much it costs them and I don’t care if they’ve got to knock part of Kmart down and build a drive-thru,” he said. “This is what most people think – that it’s going to go into the old Kmart.”
‘PROBLEMS ON SEVERAL LEVELS’
Arena said the special use permit creates problems on several levels – “and I don’t even know where to start.”
“My main theme here is at what point do we stop creating and compounding traffic flows on Lewiston and Park roads?” he asked. “Surrounded by traffic flow problems with no sidewalks, this area of Lewiston and Park road will become more dangerous than ever for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists.”
He said planners from years past “got it right” by wanting to place commercial enterprises onto Route 5, a four-lane highway.
“Well, things got turned around and OK, here we are,” he said. “There's big problems. I'm afraid to go down Park Road at night because one day I'm a law-abiding citizen and somebody might jump out at me from Batavia Downs and I'm sitting in my attorney's office facing a vehicle manslaughter charge.”
Arena said the entrance of the new businesses will come out onto Park Road – “as if Park Road isn’t a problem already.”
Noting that he has “a front seat” when looking out his pizzeria window, Arena said traffic is non-stop.
“You want to have a flea market, you want to put something next to my pizzeria, they don’t stop. They stop when the light turns red at Park Road and then you’re going to have to scoot out, because the light is going to change again. So, that’s my key thing here.”
He said that if and when Kmart is occupied again, the entrance and exit points on Lewiston and Park road “will not safely, safely, safely or adequately handle the additional 10,752 square feet of retail space.”
ARE THERE OTHER OPTIONS?
Arena said that as with an eminent domain situation, if planners have other options, “you’d think you’d want to use them.”
“Why can't you fill the Kmart … Batavia is really sought after right now,” he offered. “Batavia is a hot commodity between Buffalo and Rochester; people will come to Batavia.”
He also suggested placing the restaurants in areas where special use permits aren’t necessary, mentioning the Kmart building, property on Route 5 and land that he has for sale at the BJ’s Plaza on the south side of Lewiston Road.
Arena called out “the internet cowards” who say he is worried about competition.
“Oh, that’s really funny,” he said. “I’ve been in business since 1976. I’m not worried about another commercial business. I'm worried about the government more than anything. The government can put me out of business and they seem to be working at it.”
He said the “other swipe” at him is that he is mad because Benderson isn’t looking at the property he has for sale.
“My land for sale doesn’t need any zoning permit. It's at the intersection of Lewiston Road and Veterans Memorial Drive. It's in the BJ’s Plaza,” he said. “All the traffic will be regulated by the traffic light. It’s visible from Lewiston Road -- part of the BJs Plaza. And it’s for sale and doesn't require any kinds of permits.”
SAFETY IS A BIG ISSUE
Planning Board Chair Kathleen Jasinski interjected that a traffic study will be available for review before the board’s next meeting, and stressed that safety is a concern.
Arena said his premise is based on the fact that the former Kmart building is available.
“You can sit here all you want and say, ‘Well, we're filling a vacant parking lot. No, no, the parking lot isn’t vacant, the building's vacant.”
He said he disagrees with Benderson’s position that the project will improve the area and won’t result in a substantial increase in traffic above present levels.
“I don't see how that's mathematically possible,” he said.
Reading from an report in the application, Arena asked, “Are there any pedestrian accommodations or bicycle routes available at or near the site of the proposed action? Check mark, Yes. I don't see any sidewalks bicycle routes. Maybe I'm missing them. Maybe Matthew (Oates) can show me where he bicycle routes are."
“I see babies – two in one day. One in a wagon, getting pushed in the street and one in a stroller. And then you get your handicapped people. They’ve got their flags, and they’re driving their little thing. The mailman has got to be afraid of getting hit. At what (point) do we stop compounding? We've got a problem there.”
Arena said if Panera Bread, Popeyes or Starbucks want to locate in the town, there are spots for them other than the proposed site.
(A call and email to James Boglioli, Northeast director, right to build for Benderson, seeking the names of the businesses were not returned at the time of the posting of this story).
LEGAL ACTION A POSSIBILITY?
While hoping that the planning board votes against issuance of the special use permits, Arena said that he is prepared to take legal action to try and stop the project.
“There's a possibility that if you go through with this, I will file an injunction,” he said. “I've done it in the past and am familiar with that -- with Benderson putting BJ’s Plaza in a residential area, I fought it. I fought the good fight. I lost.”
He said he cares about the citizens of Batavia and reiterated that “it’s just a bad idea.”
Contending that zoning codes were adopted “with the purpose of protecting and promoting public health and safety," Arena said he believes his lawyers would have a “pretty good shot” at stopping the proposal.
In closing, he said he “hates to see this happen when there are other options.”
“Let's make Batavia safe again. Get your ducks in a row,” he said. “If you do issue a permit, get sidewalks. People walking down to Walmart, any of those things. It's a nightmare. It's got to be the worst commercial development possibly in the whole Western New York, if not the whole New York. It’s dangerous.”
Photos from tonight's Town of Batavia Planning Board public hearing at the Batavia Town Hall on West Main Street Road. Top: Jerry Arena, owner of Jerry Arena's Pizzeria on Lewiston Road since 1976. Bottom: Matthew Oates and Katherine Rowe of Benderson Development. Photos by Mike Pettinella.
Previously: Benderson director gives some details, but keeps the names of the Kmart parking lot tenants to himself