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REZONING VOTE CLEARS HURDLE FOR TOPS GAS PUMPS

Tops Friendly Markets is moving ahead with plans to install three gas pumps in its plaza at Transit and North French roads in Amherst.

The Amherst Planning Board voted 4-2 Thursday to recommend rezoning one-third of an acre in the plaza from general business to motor service -- a necessary step before gas pumps can be installed.

But the owner of the gas station across the street from that site says the rezoning of that small area is equivalent to spot zoning -- and that's not fair.

When Bill Kenyon started looking for a place to locate a gas station in Amherst about six years ago, local attorney Anthony J. Renaldo -- who represents Tops -- advised him that it was much easier to buy an existing gas station rather than try to convince the town to approve spot zoning, Kenyon said.

So he bought a station on the corner of Transit and North French roads -- right across the street from where Tops wants to install three gas pumps and a small kiosk.

"In Amherst, land zoned for motor services is very expensive property," Kenyon said.

But he coughed up the cash to buy an existing gas station.

And now, he says, it's just not fair for the town to grant Tops a rezoning on property it already owns. The grocery store should have to do what he did and pay for premium real estate properly zoned to allow gas pumps.

"I don't know if it's fair to ask one businessman to pay X amount of dollars because I followed the town plan," Kenyon said. "I'm telling you I did things the correct way."

If the town decides to OK Tops' rezoning, he said, the floodgates will be opened to countless other business owners who will then want the town to rezone a piece of their property.

Renaldo disagrees. He says rezoning one-third of an acre on the existing 15-acre commercial parcel at 9660 Transit Road makes sense, and it helps contain commercial activity in the town.

"It would be a benefit to this community," he said. "We're not building on a new site. We're filling in where we are."

The Amherst Planning Board acts in an advisory capacity on zoning issues to the Town Board, which likely will consider the Tops rezoning at one of its meetings in October. The Town Board's decision is binding.

Tops has started the ball rolling to install gas pumps at several of its locations in Western New York, including stores in Niagara Falls, Lancaster and West Seneca.

Store officials have said they plan to sell gas cheaper than most local gas stations. Last year, Tops withdrew plans to install gas pumps at a City of Tonawanda store because residents opposed the plan -- in part because they feared Tops would drive local owners of small gas stations out of business.

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