The Real Update on the Proposed Whole Foods Plaza
Sep 4, 2018

In the August 16th Brighton Post, Supervisor Moehle attempted to justify the incentive zoning deal he struck with the Whole Foods Plaza Developer. His article inaccurately portrayed what has occurred. The Project will not benefit the Town of Brighton. It is quite the opposite.

To begin with, it is important to note that we at Brighton GrassRoots are not against a Whole Foods, nor against development of a right-sized Plaza. Indeed, we encourage it. However, we are against the way the Town Board has allowed the Developer to bypass standard- zoning regulations, has approved an over-sized project to the detriment of the community, and has acted against the will of the overwhelming majority of Brighton residents.

Most people don’t know that in addition to a Whole Foods store (which is already 2 ½ times larger than what is permitted as of right under the zoning code on this parcel), the Plaza will also have 18-20 other retailers including a drive-thru Starbucks, and other high-traffic generating uses, far in excess of what the standard-zoning limits allow. Nor do most people know that 30% -three acres- of this supersized project is being allowed to encroach into a residential neighborhood. The Project will also add two more traffic lights in what is one of the most heavily congested and accident-prone corridors in the County. Indeed, contrary to Mr. Moehle’s unsupported statement that this over-sized Plaza will create “little adverse traffic impact,” the New York State DOT has warned of “delays, long queue lengths, and … gridlock,” from the Project as proposed.

Amazon purchased Whole Foods in August 2017, with much fanfare about how they would refresh and energize the grocery chain. Amazon immediately began adding “Amazon Lockers” and Amazon Pick Up & Delivery Centers (similar to a package post office) to their Whole Foods locations. These additions are intended to drive more traffic to the Whole Foods grocery stores. And Whole Foods began placing restaurants and pubs inside its stores to bring even more traffic. Many articles were published in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, investment journals and in numerous trade magazines about Amazon’s new strategies to increase traffic to its Whole Foods stores. Yet, these planned uses were not included in the Developer’s traffic study or questioned by the Town Board, even though Brighton residents asked them to be.  

It is important to remember that incentive zoning is completely discretionary. At any time, the Town Board could have required this Developer to comply with the regular zoning standards, and enforce our zoning protections. So why did Supervisor Moehle voluntarily allow this Developer to bypass 22 standard zoning approvals and permitsthat would otherwise have been necessary? We’re still mystified, but Mr. Moehle’s claim that he struck a great deal for the Town is simply not true.

The deal Supervisor Moehle made with this Developer is awful for the Town. According to an independent CPA review, the Town is giving this Developer $17 million in economic benefits under the Moehle deal. What did Mr. Moehle require in return? He required three “amenities” which, even according to the Developer, are only worth $1,710,576. But far more importantly, every one of these “amenities” could have been required under regular zoning as routine “mitigation measures” and cost the Town nothing. It is true there can be good incentive zoning deals, but there can also be bad ones. Here, the Developer gets $17 million in benefits. The community gets nothing but unnecessary congestion and danger on Monroe Avenue, intrusion into a residential district, an over-sized project, a general mess, and a mockery of its standard zoning protections.

So let’s look at each of the “amenities” Mr. Moehle used to justify the $17 million in benefits to the Developer and all the damage to the community:

  1. Auburn Trail. The Town could require all of the improvements to the Auburn Trail as part of the regular zoning or environmental review process. Furthermore, Brighton GrassRoots would be happy to take this on as a community project with no cost to the Town. Anyway, adding some gravel to part of the trail does not justify the damage to the community or the $17 million in benefits to the Developer.
  2. Stoplights and Traffic Mitigation with Parcels Across Street. The traffic signal and new drive lanes for property across the street are typical conditions under regular zoning and environmental review process to help deal with the excess traffic from a Project like this. Moreover, the Developer owns many of the lots across the street and the traffic mitigation measures will benefit him more than anyone else.
  3. Not Developing the One-Acre Parcel. The less than one acre “neighborhood buffer” on Clover Street is not an “amenity” because the property is swampy and is not suitable for development anyway. Moreover, this buffer is the kind of thing that can be required as a condition under regular zoning.

Mr. Moehle claimed that the Whole Foods Plaza development would bring $400,000 in new property taxes to the Town, school and county.  Mr. Moehle grossly overstated the tax benefit to the community because he is comparing the taxes that would come from the proposed development to the taxes that would come from undeveloped land. Most of these tax benefits would come from a Project built to the regular zoning limits as well.

Mr. Moehle also incorrectly stated that incentive zoning allows the Town to prevent a developer from seeking any tax abatements. This is simply not true. The Industrial Development Association (IDA) tax breaks for commercial and retail development such as this were phased out years ago, and never were available to the Developer for this Project.

And if Mr. Moehle was so concerned with taxes, why has he permitted this Developer’s property to be under-assessed since he purchased Clover Lanes (2014) and Mamasan’s (2016)? The Developer paid $9.5 million for these properties; but the Town only assesses him at $2,450,100. Why is this Developer getting a special deal that is not available to all Brighton property owners?  

Over 500 citizens went to the February Town Board meeting to tell Mr. Moehle and the Town Board that we did not want this to go through incentive zoning, and demanded that he enforce our regular zoning standards. He did not listen. An independent poll showed 78% of Brightonians polled did not want this project to proceed under incentive zoning, but rather wanted the normal zoning process that applies to everyone else. This Town belongs to the residents, not politicians—and not developers looking for deals at our expense.  

Brighton GrassRoots is comprised of citizens who are committed to honest, transparent local government. We did not ask for this job, but we love this town and could not sit by when we saw what was happening.

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