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Family Dollar developer under fire for alleged donation to community agency

A controversial proposal to construct a Family Dollar store near Main and East Amherst streets will be delayed after a community group that previously opposed it changed its position after allegedly receiving a $100,000 donation from the developer.

Politicians and neighbors packed a sweltering City Hall meeting room Wednesday evening largely to speak out against the project as the developer requested variances from the Buffalo Zoning Board of Appeals.

Hutchinson Commercial Real Estate Services, from Williamsport, Pa., wants to tear down a vacant former car stereo building and construct the 8,320-square-foot dollar store. Representatives from the company showcased an updated design for the project, which included a completely brick exterior and an attempt to mimic nearby businesses. But it wasn’t enough to placate the audience.

Opponents said the site deserves a higher level of retail, and that a Family Dollar is the exact wrong business for the area.

But the night’s biggest surprise came when Frank Garland III, a legislative assistant for the Masten District in the Common Council, said Fillmore Leroy Area Residents Inc. – a Masten District community development agency – is now supporting the development in exchange for $100,000.

“Why would a community center who is supposed to care about the community sell itself short, in my eyes, for $100,000 just to have a Family Dollar?” he said. “I think it’s unfair. I think it’s totally unethical. I’m totally against it.”

Wendy Anderson, the executive director for the community agency, known as FLARE, said the claim was “totally not true.”

She did offer the group’s support for the project, citing the developer’s pledge to join in area beautification efforts, jobs for local residents and the developer’s contribution “to a minor home-repair program.”

Melissa Brown, a housing assistant for FLARE, said the $100,000 figure was a grant from both investors – she didn’t say whether the investors included Family Dollar’s developers – and members of the community for the home-repair program.

Beyond the implication that the community organization was being influenced by a cash contribution, many residents felt that a Family Dollar simply wasn’t necessary for the community, which already features rival Dollar General on the same commercial block.

“We know that Family Dollar does not offer any type of healthy living for the individuals in that neighborhood,” Cam Wood, a recent graduate from SUNY Purchase and 10-year neighborhood resident, said. “It is not needed. We need a marketplace, or a place where our elders can get their pharmaceuticals.”

Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, said the Family Dollar doesn’t fit under “transit-oriented” development emphasized by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative.

When it came time to vote, board members were unable to reach a consensus.

Chairman Rev. James Lewis wanted to deny the project on the grounds that it didn’t fit the area’s growth while board member Anthony Diina said he suspected that somebody had “conducted a smear campaign” against the project and FLARE.

The board tabled the project until its next meeting Sept. 16.