Passionate crowd turns out for NW Walgreens vote

It’s a no-go for a Walgreens in northwest Rochester after the city council voted to deny the development Monday night.

It's a no-go for a Walgreens in northwest Rochester after the city council voted Monday night to deny the development.

A passionate crowd of neighbors turned out to oppose the project during Monday's council meeting, which stretched into the early hours of Tuesday. The denial is the culmination of a monthslong process of meetings with neighbors and the city — and a concentrated effort by some neighbors to gather signatures for an opposition movement .

The council denied a request for a zoning change from residential to a B-4 commercial zone by Chateau Circle LLC for the area near Villa Road and Chateau Road, near 55th Street. Developer David Marris said the plan would straighten Chateau Road Northwest, in the process demolishing three homes on the about 8-acre plot. The Walgreens itself would be about 14,000 square feet, with the potential for additional commercial uses on the acreage of about 57,000 square feet.

A B-4 zone could allow fast food restaurants, auto services or office space, for example. Those sections neighbor a residential area, with homes on large lots.

"B-4 is the zoning you want to put in place if you want to hurt a neighborhood. … It is not neighborhood friendly," council member Michael Wojcik said. The types of development allowable in a B-4 zone are what a person would expect to see on an interchange off the interstate, Wojcik said.


And though the proposed development called for a Walgreens, that brand and store is not a guarantee once the zoning changes, City Planner Mitzi Baker said.

"Our hands are not tied to that," Baker said.

The council also denied the general development plan and a preliminary plat for the project because both hinged on the zoning change. The City Planning and Zoning Commission as well as city staff recommended denying those three aspects of the project.

But the denial doesn't mean commercial development won't move into the area. The council did approve a land-use change from "low density residential" to "commercial" for the area, so future businesses likely will move in.

Council President Randy Staver made that fact known, saying the council is sending a "clear message" that the area should be commercial but with a less intense impact on the neighborhood.

Council member Ed Hruska said denying the proposed Walgreens would allow "good neighbors" and "good developers" to come together to make an acceptable commercial area.

"Maybe something can come up that everybody can live with," Hruska said.

Neighborhood opposition


The developer and representatives said the project made improvements to the area, such as curbs and pedestrian facilities, at their own expense. They also said the commercial area was about 350 feet away from homes, and other areas of town have commercial development much closer to residential.

Leslie McGillivray-Rivas of McGhie & Betts, a consultant for the developer, said the Walgreens would have an appealing facade and landscaping and would be "designed with the intent to be an amenity to the neighborhood."

But the neighbors laughed and groaned at that suggestion, and throughout the night, they voiced opposition from their chairs with "nos" and "boos." One man, seated in the front row, subtly showed a sign for hours that simply said "NO."

Barbara Virnig has lived in the neighborhood for decades and gathered about 140 signatures from residents who weren't interested in the commercial development. Adding commercial property might bring in more tax money to the city, but that's not the only important matter, Virnig said.

"Rochester loses the sense that people live here. If you just see buildings and business, that's all you think of," Virnig said. "If you're just driving through, you don't get the sense that there's people that actually live here."

For many neighbors, traffic and safety, as well as an adequate buffer area, were the main concerns of a B-4 zone nearby. Bob Nordman, a neighbor, said that 55th Street acts as a buffer right now.

"What the proposal does is it breaks that buffer and puts it right in the middle (of the neighborhood)," Nordman said. "It destroys the buffer that exists right now, and it doesn't create a new buffer."

Jean Daniels said she was concerned that allowing individual developers to change zoning could "promote very haphazard and chaotic development" in Rochester.


"We don't want Rochester to look like a checkerboard drawn by a 3-year-old," Daniels said.

A few people, including two people who own the properties affected by the change, were in favor of moving forward with the Walgreens and B-4 zone.

"I'm for the project. I think it's a good development plan. I think Walgreens is a good neighborhood store. … When all is said and done, I think people will find it very convenient," said Tom Bigalke, who owns one of the properties.

Glenn Lyden, a neighbor, said he realizes that changes happen with a growing town but wanted to prevent a rush to develop the area.

"We now have an opportunity to look at what is best for that property. I don't know of any urgency … that that land needs to be developed," Lyden said. "We now have the opportunity for some thoughtful study."

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