A proposal to rezone 35 acres at Two Rod Road and Clinton Street in Marilla brought over 150 people to the Marilla Community Center Thursday night for an informational hearing.
The rezoning to a new classification, B1, would allow the town to restrict the type of businesses there.
Many of those attending said they thought a 35-acre mall -- half the size of Southgate Plaza in West Seneca -- was under consideration because of a flier mailed to residents. Those opposing any kind of strip mall worried that eventually there would be empty store fronts.
Supervisor John Foss assured them no strip mall was proposed. He said he favors individual stores versus a strip mall and businesses instead of more homes.
"Businesses will not put as much a burden on our town services," he said. .
The land is not agriculturally viable and has not been farmed in 30 years. Foss said the owner, Marjorie Rohl, is in a nursing home and her son is handling her affairs.
The son wants to sell the land. Under its current zoning, the town will not be able to limit what kind of businesses go in there, including a strip mall, Foss said.
"We cannot put this off for another two years. We had no suitable land for sale in the town until this piece came on the market. We have to put the business somewhere. People don't mind small businesses near them, but when they start to grow, they start to complain," he said.
Marcia Canetti of Clinton Street said, "I thought Marilla was all about country. I think this rezone would benefit a few instead of many" and accused Foss of looking out for business only.
Helen Bourgeois, senior citizen director, asked about grants for senior citizen housing that could be built on that site instead of businesses. She said new businesses could eventually eliminate existing businesses like the Marilla Kitchen and the gas station. That remark got a loud outburst of applause.
One man suggested the town residents vote on whether they want the rezone, but Foss said the state law is explicit about what can be put to referendum. He said, "That's what you elect us for."
Jeff Piscatelli of Four Rod Road worried the rezone would set a precedent.
Town attorney Nathan Neil said, "The rezoning would not commit the Town Board to anything. Each request is a separate decision and is looked at case by case. Just because someone gets land rezoned doesn't mean you are entitled to the same."
Foss said the board would present a list of what can be in a B1 zone at the next meeting in April.