2006-03-22 / Front Page

Business owners attack rezoning

Planning Board tables Transit Road decision
by JILL SCHMELZER Reporter

The proposed site, above, for a future Aldi's grocery store is under scrutiny from some residents and board members. A nursery and toy store currently occupy the location. Photo by David F. Sherman The proposed site, above, for a future Aldi's grocery store is under scrutiny from some residents and board members. A nursery and toy store currently occupy the location. Photo by David F. Sherman Tempers flared this past Thursday during the Amherst Planning Board's public hearings on the rezoning of six businesses on Transit Road.

The board was supposed to make a decision on whether or not to recommend the down zoning of the businesses.

If the planning board recommends the rezoning from general business to neighborhood business, it could mean a decrease in the value of the buildings.

Business owners argued that if the board voted to recommend a down zone, the action would be discriminatory and unconstitutional. They believe the town is attempting to prevent Aldi's from building a grocery store and retail plaza at the intersection of Transit and Casey Roads.

The store would be a 16,409-square-foot building at 9290 and 9300 Transit Road, which was the location of Mulberry Street Toys and Stedman Old Farm Nurseries.

The board previously approved a permit for Aldi's site plans, 4-2, pending some additional modifications, according to Gary Black, assistant planning director of the planning department.

However, the Town Board then proposed to down zone the two buildings and the surrounding businesses.

If the planning board recommends the down zoning of the parcels and the Town Board approves it, Aldi's would have a difficult time building there, even with the building permit, said Town Attorney Matthew Plunket.

Aldi's would need to begin significant construction of the building before the board acts.

Other businesses affected are located at 9250 - 9280, 9210, 9290 and 9150 Transit Road.

They include Fedder R.P. Corp., Masters Landscaping and Snowplowing, La Scala Ristorante and Grover's Bar and Grill. If the board approves the down zoning of these parcels, then the existing buildings would be non-conforming. Meaning, if the business owners wanted to make any changes to their buildings, they would need to go to the Zoning Board of Appeals and request a variance, Black said.

Those who oppose the project said their main reason for requesting the zoning change is because they do not want to promote any more "big box" companies to come into the area.

One business owner argued that Aldi's is not a big box store

A Morningwood Drive resident said he wants to see positive construction in the area, so if the board can change the zoning they should.

"I love bargains; there are plenty of them on Transit Road," he said. "We need to preserve the character of the area - keep them parcels."

Amherst resident Tony Parco said he was in support of the rezoning as well.

"I am not here to beat up Aldi's," he said. "It could be any business. The main issue is that the land sits on six acres of national wetlands."

Business owners disagreed with residents and board members and began to voice their own concerns with the down zoning.

Kenneth Rawe, who owns the property from 9250 to 9280 Transit Road, said he has been there for 30 years.

"It's my investment, my retirement," he said. "I've been here 30 years, and I'm shocked."

Rawe said down zoning the property would cut his investment in half.

The owner of Grover's Bar and Grill said her business is currently zoned neighborhood business; however, she would like to buy her neighbor's property which is located at 9150 Transit Road, and it is zoned general business.

Neighborhood businesses cannot exceed one acre, so if she purchased the building her property would be more like three acres.

Gilbert Joyce, who owns the lot at 9150 Transit Road, said he could not believe the matter was even up for discussion.

"This big box talk is nonsense," he said. "This is State Route 78; there is nothing to say about Aldi's wanting to go there."

Joyce questioned what would happen if Aldi's built on the Clarence side of Transit Road.

"What's stopping it from going there," he asked. "What you don't get are those taxes that would come in from the business."

Joyce made it no secret he was displeased to even have to attend such a meeting.

"It has cost me thousands of dollars to be here," he said. "This would bring me severe financial and emotional hardship."

Joyce added he perceives this as a prejudicial act against a business.

"It is simply illegal. It's simply unthinkable," he added. "I have a right to sell my property. If you can't build on Transit Road, where are you going to keep it?"

Attorney Sean Hopkins was at the meeting representing La Scala Ristorante.

"These businesses are included because of the rezoning of Aldi's," Hopkins said. "It is transparent, and it is automatically illegal."

The board has tabled its decision due to procedural issues. A special meeting will be held Thursday, March 23 to discuss its recommendation to the Town Board.

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