The Cheektowaga Planning Board could be headed for a stormy session Thursday when it reviews plans for a retail venture at Harlem Road and Cleveland Drive, which one community business leader calls "ground zero" in a neighborhood revitalization campaign.
Interest in the planners' meeting at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Town Hall is fueled by a new plan for the busy corner in the Harlem-Kensington-Cleveland neighborhood on the Cheektowaga-Amherst border.
Neighborhood leaders said they are hoping for a turnout of more than 100 residents.
Benderson Development Co. wants to build an 11,180-square-foot retail building at the vacant southwest corner of Harlem and Cleveland, where plans for a Rite Aid drug store fell through four years ago.
Benderson has not identified the tenant it has in mind for the new building. But an architect's rendering showing a structure with a blue roof and cream-colored walls is driving a rumor that Eckerd Drugs is headed for the location, some sources say.
In any case, town officials said that except for the removal of a drive-through window, the building and site layout is the same as one approved for the Rite Aid in the late 1990s.
Leaders of the Harlem-Kensington-Cleveland Business Association say the plan is unacceptable because the building is set back too far from the road to fit in with the neighborhood's vision of becoming more "walkable" and pedestrian-friendly.
"It begins here! 'Ground zero' of the (Harlem-Kensington-Cleveland) revitalization is the corner of Cleveland Drive and Harlem Road," Patrick E. Allaire, vice president of the business association, wrote in a letter to a town official.
"Please make no mistake about our conviction to that point, or our passion for our community," Allaire said.
Town officials said the plan shows a building situated just inside the south property line, 88 feet from Harlem and 23 feet from Cleveland, with most of the 40 parking spaces in the front.
Neighborhood leaders want the storefront close to the sidewalk.
Zoning inspector Daniel Ulatowski said it would be highly unusual for the Planning Board to act on the Harlem-Cleveland project Thursday night.
"We have to wait for comments from the outside agencies, including the state and county. There shouldn't be any action taken, other than a preliminary review," Ulatowski said.
Shelly Schratz, president of the business association, said she will ask for a building moratorium in the Harlem-Kensington-Cleveland area until a master plan is approved. "This must be a process everybody is involved in," she said.
Schratz said community leaders were outraged to learn that Benderson -- after meeting with them monthly for the past year to develop "a new vision" for the area -- had simply refiled the old plan approved for Rite Aid.
Residents said they made it clear they envisioned a certain type of business -- such as a coffee shop or bakery -- for the corner, and thought Benderson agreed with them.
"Developers have an obligation to communities to do things that work in the communities. For them to do this behind our back, that says something's up. I find it kind of frightening," Schratz said.
Daniel Blamowski, site engineer for Benderson Development, was unavailable to comment Tuesday.
"Although Benderson owns the site and apparently wishes to proceed with development, I will work with our Planning Board and reviewing bodies to get them to conform to the 'Village Main Street' plans proposed" by the business association, said Council Member Thomas M. Johnson Jr., the Town Board's development chief.