The financially troubled YWCA in Batavia has reached an agreement to sell its building at 301 North St., Batavia, to Dr. Emily Fraser-Branche, a pediatrician in Batavia who will relocate her practice to the building and lease back space to the YWCA.
The sale of the property is contingent on Fraser-Branche obtaining a use variance from the City of Batavia for a medical office at the location.
When the YWCA opened in 1968 at 301 North, the neighborhood had not yet been declared R-1 (single-family residential) so while the YWCA's use of the property is grandfathered in, any other non-single-family use requires a variance.
The planned sale was announced to a group of YWCA supporters and area residents at a meeting Wednesday night.
Reid Whiting, a municipal attorney with an office in Le Roy, explained to the audience the basis of the variance application, which must be approved by the city's planning board and zoning board of appeals.
There are three criteria that must be met for the variance to be approved, Whiting said.
First, that the change is needed because the current building cannot make a reasonable rate of return; second, that the building is experiencing a unique hardship; and third, that the hardship was not created by the YWCA.
On the first point, the building is not suitable as a single-family residence and therefore couldn't be sold at a reasonable rate of return and further, the YWCA's financial difficulties demonstrate that its current use is not generating enough revenue to maintain a reasonable rate of return.
On the second, because of the building's size and location in an R-1 zone, it creates a hardship on other uses for the building.
And on the third, the financial difficulty of the why and the city's decision to change the zoning is what created the hardship that necessitates the need for a variance, Whiting said.
Fraser-Branche grew up in Batavia and obtained her medical degree from Univerity at Buffalo. She returned to Batavia to practice medicine in Batavia and a few years ago opened Three Little Birds Pediatrics at 314 Ellicott St.
At Wednesday's meeting, she explained that it was the death of her father who inspired her to open her own practice. He encouraged her to strike out on her own and follow her passion.
She's been able, she said, to avoid being swallowed up by a regional hospital group and remain independent. Her practice she said is focused on taking care of her patient's physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
When she realized she might be able to acquire the YWCA building and move her practice there, she said it was an opportunity beyond her dreams to give her practice room to grow. It was a big decision, she said, that led to a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of prayer but in the end, it just seemed like the right thing to do.
“This is my home community," Fraser-Branche said. "I want to remain here. I want to continue to practice here. I want to continue to watch families grow and thrive.”
In response to residents' questions at the meeting, she said her office will only be open during standard, daytime business hours. Her business doesn't require big dumpsters and what little medical waste is generated by the business, it is safely stored in regular-sized, but sealed, garbage bins and safely removed from the property.
Whiting, in answer to a question, said a variance for the YWCA will not make it possible for other properties in the community to open businesses.
Whiting also said that if, for whatever reason some time down the road, another business wants to use the building, that business would require its own variance unless it was also a medical practice.
If the variance is to be granted, Whiting suggested, community members who support the YWCA will need to speak up in support of the variance.
"We hope anybody here who feels strongly about the future of the YWCA, its place in this community, and the chance to foster a great pediatric practice within this community, we hope that some of you, if not all of you, would take some time out of your busy schedules, particularly around this time of year, to put in favorable word to the planning board and the zoning board," Whiting said. "It’s very important because frequently the only people who show up at variance application hearings are opponents of the variance."
One argument in favor of the variance, Whiting said, is there is already medical uses in that part of Batavia, from UMMC to several medical offices. He said residents won't notice anything different with Three Little Birds Pediatrics than what they're used to from either those medical practices or the YWCA.
The medical practice will be in the back, roughly two-thirds of the building, while the YWCA will continue to operate in the front of the building, still offering its current programs and services, with My Sister's Closet moving to a room in the front of the building.
Millie Tomidy-Pepper, the current executive director, said the YWCA's office hours will remain the same, which are weekday, daytime hours.
The Batavia YWCA, founded in 1910, served the community from various locations, including its own downtown building for many years, until launching a building fund in the 1960s, raising more than $200,000, purchasing the property at 301 North, and finally opening the new building in 1968.
This spring, it looked briefly like the YWCA in Batavia was going to have to close up shop. It was out of money and Executive Director Jeanne Walton was replaced by Tomidy-Pepper, who took over an organization with debt and no reserves. The community rallied around the YW and between donations and the support of other YWCA's Tomidy-Pepper and the board, they were able to keep the doors open.
The sale of the building will help the YWCA continue to serve the community, Tomidy-Pepper said.
"I think it’s a good fit," Tomidy-Pepper said. "I can’t think of anybody else who could have put an offer in on the building who could have fit any better, honestly."
Dr. Emily Fraser-Branche