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COUNCIL APPROVES STARBUCKS ON ELMWOOD AVENUE

Pass the cream and sugar. Starbucks is coming to Elmwood Avenue.

One of the nation's premier coffeehouse chains got the go-ahead Tuesday to move into Buffalo and compete with a growing number of locally owned coffeehouses on Elmwood.

The Common Council's approval ends a monthlong debate, which included five public hearings and the type of scrutiny and attention normally reserved for much bigger projects.

In the end, the Council voted 11-2 in favor of Starbucks, in part because city lawyers said the city had no legal grounds for rejecting the new business.

"People from around the county don't understand what all the hoopla is about," said North Council Member Dale L. Zuchlewski. "It is not legal to deny a business because they might compete with other businesses."

From the day Starbucks announced its plans, competitors have been at the forefront of the opposition. Caffe Aroma, a locally owned coffeehouse, is just a few doors away.

Zuchlewski, whose district includes the Elmwood business strip, attached conditions to the Council's approval. They include a requirement that the final design be approved by the city.

Starbucks also would have to gain Council approval before opening another store within the Elmwood Avenue Special Zoning District. Competitors are concerned the chain may try to flood the business strip with outlets.

Council President James W. Pitts, a candidate for mayor, pointed to those fears in voting against the project.

"My vote is not to say Starbucks can't be there," Pitts said. "But there are concerns that need to be addressed."

Council Member at Large Beverly Gray also voted against the project.

Zuchlewski suggested that the competition turn Starbucks' arrival on Elmwood from a negative to a positive.

"I'm calling on people to be positive about a national investment," he said. "Elmwood Avenue could be the coffee capital of Western New York."

The Council, in a related action, asked the Masiello administration to hire a consultant to study the pros and cons of national chains vs. locally owned businesses.

The consultant is expected to make recommendations on zoning laws, economic development incentives and other changes.

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