While Geneva tries to figure out what happens next to downtown development after the decision to hold off on a teardown of the historic Pure Oil building on West State Street, nearby Batavia grapples with its own ongoing saga with a proposed new building for the downtown Walgreens.
The Batavia Walgreens story continues tonight (April 4) at 100 N. Island Ave.
A public hearing will resume for the remaining eight exceptions, or variances, the city needs to agree to in order for the downtown Walgreens plan to move forward.
Batavia Enterprises has proposed a new 14,490-square-foot building for the downtown Batavia Walgreens that would include a drive-through, fresh food, liquor sales and a high-end design. The store would move from its current location at 138 W. Wilson St. to the new building, which would be built on the former Prairie Path Cycles site at 122 W. Wilson St.
On March 21 the Zoning Board of Appeals recommended approval of a front setback variance for the Walgreens, which is needed to build the proposed store 77 ft. from Wilson Street instead of the standard 10 ft.
Even with all the meetings, a final decision on the Batavia Walgreens project is still far away. Another public hearing for the Batavia Walgreens plan will tentatively be on April 18. This one will be for a conditional use permit for a drive-through with consideration of design review for the proposed store.
The city also needs a few more items from Batavia Enterprises regarding the site, including its application for TIF, or tax increment finance, funding for the project. The city had yet to receive them as of late last month.
Batavia Enterprises will continue working with the city on the Walgreens plan, said Austin Dempsey, the company’s vice president.
“We are attempting to balance the Batavia (city) process with the expectations of our client and expectations of the public … which seem to overwhelmingly be in support of this,” Dempsey told Batavia Patch after the March 21 hearing.
Residents Take Action
While the formal process continues, many residents have begun to voice their opinions for and against the Walgreens plan. Since the initial Feb. 22 public hearing, petitions have begun to circulate in the community and online. The petitions aim to capture the attention of the Batavia City Council, who will make the final votes on the Walgreens plan.
Batavia resident Jeanette Bonifas signed a paper petition in favor of the plan. She has shopped at the downtown Walgreens ever since her family moved here about 16 years ago. She doesn’t have a problem with parking in the front of the store.
“This is just too convenient for everybody in town,” Bonifas said after a shopping trip at the store in March.
Batavian Nell Novak signed an online petition against the plan. She shared her concerns at the last meeting.
“Because the building is so large … sidewalks, driving aisles, and parking spaces all must be shortened or narrowed,” Novak said at the March 21 public hearing. “Pedestrian and driver safety then become a reasonable concern. These accommodations not only impact the general safety of those who work in and visit the plaza but it also gives special privilege to one business over all others.”
Since there is no clear date yet of when the plan will finally get to the City Council, officials stress patience with the process.
"(The Batavia Walgreens plan) is probably one of the most complicated projects in front of the city … in a long time,” said Jerry Swanson, Batavia’s Community Development Director. “It’s not going to go quickly or easily, but it has to be done deliberately by the Zoning Board and Community Development Committee and City Council.”
A Couple More Variances to Go…
After the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Community Development Committee will be the next group that weighs in on the Walgreens plan.
The Zoning Board will vote to recommend each variance for approval, approval with conditions, or denial to the Community Development Committee.
Before they can make their recommendations, the Board must close the current public hearing and adopt the findings of fact for the variances.
After the Zoning Board is done, the Community Development Committee will begin to deliberate over Walgreens in a future meeting. Once the Committee makes their recommendations on the variances, TIF funding request and other parts, the Walgreens plan will then head to the Batavia City Council for final votes in yet another meeting.
At this point, city staff has made a recommendation on each of the remaining eight variances for the Zoning Board. Only one variance got a full recommendation for approval, five were recommended with conditions and two were recommended to be voted down.
The two variances that staff could not recommend, variances #5 and #10, involve parking.
Variance #5: Parking Lot Geometry
Variance #5 asks for an exception to the dimensions of each individual parking space and the aisle, or space, between whole rows of parking. Zoning code calls for parking stalls to be 9 feet by 19 feet with a 25-foot aisle. Batavia Enterprises wants it to be 9 feet wide by 18 feet deep with a 24-foot aisle.
City staff says the slightly smaller parking stalls and aisle would significantly lower the maneuvering space for the vehicles. Dempsey countered that argument by showing other parking dimensions around town to be similar to what BEI is proposing for Walgreens.
The Batavia High School parking lot stalls have a depth less than 18 feet, and the Batavia Police Department parking has parking stalls with a depth of 18 feet and 24-foot aisles. Dempsey said.
“It’s the same as what we’re asking for,” Dempsey said to the Zoning Board on March 21.
Variance #10: 10 ft. Parking Separation from the Building
Variance #10 asks for an exception to a zoning code requirement that sets parking 10 feet from a building. Batavia Enterprises said existing site conditions make this hard to achieve, leaving them to propose a parking separation of 7 feet instead.
Staff does not recommend this variance. If the Zoning Board does approve it anyways, staff recommends a condition that prohibits placement of objects between the building and the parking. Batavia Enterprises agrees.
The front setback variance was also recommended for denial, but the Zoning Board of Appeals voted in favor of recommending the variance to the Community Development Committee.
For a bulleted list explaining each variance and city staff’s reaction to them, review the city’s memo for tonight’s meeting here.