Grocer Joe Dash and his attorney thought they were asking for a simple zoning change to make his new Hertel Avenue market consistent with other large grocery stores in the city.
Instead, they found themselves confronting vocal critics as they made their pitch to the Buffalo Planning Board on Monday night.
Dash wants to demolish his existing Dash's Market at 1764 Hertel Ave. and construct an expanded market on the site. But he first needs to combine nine properties on Hertel Avenue and one on Starin Avenue.
To get the project approved, he would have needed as many as a dozen exemptions – known as variances – to city zoning rules.
So he and attorney Corey Auerbach of Barclay Damon proposed changing the zoning for the site to one that would allow bigger lots and side parking. The Planning Board on Monday approved the request, but not before nearly an hour of discussion that was interrupted several times by concerned residents.
Auerbach noted that every other store of at least 16,000 square feet – Dash's proposal calls for 47,500 square feet – has the other zoning. The change would reduce the number of required variances to four or five.
"It just puts them on an equal footing with other stores in the city," Auerbach said. "We're not asking to be treated any differently."
The proposed new store has generally met with positive reception in the community, where many residents said during a meeting in May they were eagerly awaiting the new store. But Auerbach noted that some neighbors are concerned about a change that could allow broader development by someone else in the future.
Dash offered to include a zoning restriction that would limit possible uses to what is allowed right now, prohibiting use as an outdoor amusement facility, a car wash, a drive-thru facility or a heavy retail or service operation such as a lumberyard.
A half-dozen opponents at a Planning Board meeting on Monday sought to express their concerns about the zoning change, despite the fact there was no public hearing on the application. They kept interrupting Monday's meeting, prompting exasperated Board Chairman James Morrell to lecture them several times.
"What's disturbing is that you're interrupting this meeting," Morrell said. "I would appreciate it if you would please have a seat."
Planning Board members questioned if Dash was just "circumventing" the zoning rules and code, and suggested he should just proceed with the full package of variance requests instead. In the end, though, the request was approved after nearly an hour. The changes also need approval by the Common Council.
Dash and Auerbach will be coming back to the Planning Board at least two more times, including for a public hearing on the site plan, expected on July 17.