A Monroe County Supreme Court Judge ruled today that the opponents of the Whole Foods Plaza project in Brighton “have a compelling case,” ordering a trial in the main lawsuits against the Developer and Town.
In an 84-page global decision, the Court issued rulings in the vast majority of the lawsuits against the Project brought by three community groups — Brighton Grassroots, Save Monroe Ave., and the Clover/Allens Creek Neighborhood Association.
The main part of the Court’s decision involved the community groups’ primary claims involving a public recreational trail that runs through the Project site, known as the Auburn Trail. The Town and Developer asked the Court to dismiss these claims, but the Court denied their request, and specifically found that the community groups “have a compelling case.”
“The project is in far greater jeopardy than the Developer and the Town have been letting on,” said Howie Jacobson, who is President of Brighton Grassroots. “They have been fooling people for years by telling them that our claims are ‘frivolous.’ The Court’s ruling makes their comments look foolish because we’re now headed to trial with a ‘compelling case.’”
The Court’s decision also chastised the Developer over some its conduct involving a portion of the trail property at the site, holding: “This does not sit well with the Court as it is possibly a fraud against the Town, and by virtue the public.”
The trial is scheduled to begin December 5. If the community groups prevail, the public will get a chance to vote on the size of the plaza, and the Developer will likely be forced to shrink and redesign portions of it — including those already built.
The plaza is being built on top of the Auburn Trail, which the public has utilized for walking, running, biking, and other recreational activities for several decades. Currently, almost 1/3 of the plaza spills into the adjacent residential neighborhood and covers up the Trail. The Town let the Developer re-route the Trail to make the plaza bigger than typical zoning limits allow. But the law requires the Town to first allow for a public vote and permission from the state legislature before rerouting a public trail. It failed to do so here.
“This is about easing the horrible traffic on Monroe Ave,” Jacobson said. “If we win, the Developer won’t be able to build on top of, or beyond, the Trail and will have to shrink the oversized plaza. If we shrink the plaza, we can ease the traffic.”
During the project approval process, the New York State DOT predicted the plaza would cause “gridlock.” Unfortunately, its prediction has already come true, with only 5%of the plaza open – before the Whole Foods and as many as 20 other stores open their doors.
The latter portion of the Judge’s decision denied many of the community groups’ more technical and procedural claims involving the Town’s approval process. But the community groups are likely to appeal those issues while the main claims proceed to trial, Jacobson said.