Aldi has been given the green light to build a $1.1 million supermarket in the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood across from the Broadway Market.
The chain expects to begin work at 998 Broadway this summer in hopes of opening by the end of the year or in early 2012.
But Tuesday's 5-1 vote by the city Planning Board was preceded by fierce debate over whether the design fits into the urban fabric of one of Buffalo's oldest commercial districts.
A month ago, city planners told Aldi's project manager to go back to the drawing board and revise his design so that the store is closer to the street and does not have parking in the front. The goal, planners said, is to foster pedestrian access.
When Project Manager Christopher V. Kambar presented revised blueprints Tuesday that moved the store 30 feet closer to Broadway and reduced the number of parking spots in the front lot from 21 to 13, Planning Board members said it wasn't good enough. The store would still be 60 feet from Broadway.
"It seems like no effort has been made," complained board member Frank A. Manuele, a former city planning director. "There has been lip service paid to moving the building a paltry few feet forward, and there's still parking in front."
Kambar, who is with the Victor-based firm of APD Engineering & Architecture, said he struggled to find a compromise between Aldi's desired design and the site plan that city officials want.
"I'm awkwardly stuck in the middle, unfortunately. So what I've done is I actually spent a lot of time trying to move this building forward and get it closer [to Broadway]," he said.
Board Chairman James Morrell pushed for further concessions, underscoring the importance of the project to the East Side neighborhood.
"The overriding issue is to bring development into that area," Morrell said.
Following extensive discussion, Kambar agreed to further reduce the number of parking spots planned in front of the building to nine. He also agreed to create more green space or "pedestrian amenities" such as benches, and to install more columns on some exterior walls.
Manuele was the only board member who opposed the project.
But some neighborhood activists think the city should have pushed for even bigger changes to make the proposed supermarket more compatible with the area.
"It's totally uninspiring," said Martin Biniasz of the Despensata Corp., a nonprofit neighborhood advocacy group. "It's a suburban site plan that's being put into an urban area."
Biniasz said the most disappointing thing is that Aldi is known for being a "pioneer" in its design of urban stores.
"If this was East Aurora or Williamsville, Aldi would have been jumping through hoops," Biniasz contended. "Just because [Broadway-Fillmore] is economically challenged doesn't mean we should settle for second best."
Eddy Dobosiewicz of the Despensata Corp. said he would support the Aldi project if it were done right. But he expressed disappointment following the meeting that the design falls short of fostering a walkable urban environment. He pointed to the Aldi that was built years ago on Main Street near the LaSalle Metro Rail Station as a good example of a store that encourages pedestrian flow.
Other concerns have focused on the impact that a discount supermarket could have on the ailing Broadway Market directly across from the development site.
Common Council President David A. Franczyk, who represents the Fillmore District, said some market tenants worry that Aldi could put them out of business and threaten the survival of the city-owned market. The Planning Board has said in the past that it cannot legally consider issues such as competition in making a determination on the site plan.