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To some, the success of the partly vacant Hamburg Village Square Plaza hinges on whether a local developer can persuade zoning officials to grant a parking variance ultimately leading to a drive-through site for a Rite Aid Pharmacy at the Buffalo Street end of the plaza.

The issue takes center stage Thursdaywhen the village Zoning Board of Appeals again debates a request by Benderson Development Co. Inc. for a parking variance tied to demolishing 16,000 square feet of the existing far end of the plaza now occupied by Paper Factory and then building a new 10,968-square-foot building for a drive-through pharmacy with 28 additional parking spaces.

The building would still be connected to the main plaza. Benderson is planning to submit more details on the project and justify its need for a parking variance and tying it to future tenant prospects for the plaza.

"It is kind of stalled right now, but I hope the Zoning Board does allow the parking," Trustee Thomas D. Bard said recently. "I hope it can go. It can do a lot for the plaza."

However, some officials, including the developer, know the plan is under intense scrutiny by the Zoning Board.

"They'll (Benderson) have a hard time proving hardship with tearing the building down to build a new one," Trustee Thomas P. Tallman said. "I think the Zoning Board is playing hardball with this."

Even William Conrad, a project manager with Benderson, acknowledged the Zoning Board's tough stance on the parking variance and said he is surprised it has met with such resistance.

"The Zoning Board is standing hard and fast on this," Conrad said in an interview.

"The hope is that the plaza is once what it used to be," Conrad said. "It basically boils down to every inch we take to push the building back is another inch of rented space. We stand to lose 6,000 square feet with less building and more parking."

But anything beyond that would be Benderson's hardship, Conrad said. "It's hard, green dollars."

So far, the village Planning Commission has tabled action on Benderson's plans until the Zoning Board rules on the parking issue. The Planning Commission recommended green space for the area between the sidewalk and parking area. Benderson added a crosswalk across the proposed new parking area.

Zoning Board Chairman Edwin J. Osborne said the board wants some questions answered before making a decision and is requiring the developer to prove hardship. "The Zoning Board has certain restrictions it must look at before granting a variance," he said. "If we don't approve it, it can't happen."

The proposal also calls for a one-way driveway running behind the drive-through pharmacy, with traffic exiting onto Pine Street. Paper Factory is relocating and expanding on the other side of the plaza at the site of the former Pleasures & Pastimes store.

Rite Aid officials declined to comment on the company's plans to move to the end of the plaza from their centralized spot on the same side of the plaza. Benderson is hoping that if the improvements are approved, the plaza will be enhanced.

"Rite Aid is a large anchor and will bring in more tenants," Conrad said, according to minutes of the Zoning Board's Sept. 3 meeting. "Rite Aid will not go through with this planned expansion if they are not guaranteed the dedicated parking on Buffalo Street."

When questioned about whether Rite Aid is threatening to pull out of the plaza, Conrad said it is not. However, "there's a trend for Rite Aid to move to independent, freestanding buildings," he said.

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