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1999-07-25
Buffalo, NY. Loses First Amendment Fight

At the end of January, newsflash updated the situation in Buffalo, NY, where Rite Aid was trying to bulldoze the Elmwood neighborhood to produce a 12,000 s.f. store and a 42 car parking lot. Officials in City Hall refused to go along with Rite Aid's plans, and the project was almost universally criticized during 3 public hearings on the project. Rite Aid, and its developer, Ellicott Development, filed a suit against the city under the non-descript name of the "9274 group", and took it to court in Batavia, a town 45 miles away from Buffalo. The companies sued the Buffalo Planning Commission's March 5th rejection of their plan to expand the Rite Aid on Elmwood Ave. The citizens' group Forever Elmwood, said the store would destroy the special zoning protection of the whole neighborhood. Elmwood has a Business Special Zoning District that limits the size of new commercial buildings to 2,500 s.f. Rite Aid ignored that restriction and plowed ahead with plans to expand the 8,960 s.f Rite Aid into an 11,300 s.f. prototype. When Rite Aid was rejected,their lawyer argued that the Zoning Board has been unduly swayed by overwhelming community opposition to the project, and "apparent political bias", because 2 Buffalo lawmakers also expressed their opposition during the public hearings. Rite Aid argued that the Zoning Board didn't "evaluate much of anything. They took their cue from the Planning Department," they told the Buffalo news, "and knew what they were going to do as soon as the councilmen spoke." Rite Aid complained that the Zoning Board members were appointed by the Mayor of Buffalo, who did not testify at the hearings, but was reportedly against the Rite Aid expansion. Rite Aid objected to the elected officials showing up at a public hearing to defend the neighborhood position. "These guys (city councilors) should have stayed home and let the residents fight the battle themselves," said Rite Aid's lawyer, Richard Mayberry. State Supreme Court Justice Eugene Fahey was not moved by Rite Aid's anti First Amendment arguments. "Public servants and citizens are entitled to be heard in matters of public concern," the judge ruled. The residents of Elmwood Village had argued that the scale and architecture of the proposed Rite Aid would result in an undesirable change in the neighborhood's character. Although the land in question was properly zoned, the project was rejected by the city, and by the courts. The Zoning Board's decision was upheld by the courts, and the First Amendment rights of elected officials to testify publicy -- even against Rite Aid -- was also upheld.

What you can do: The lawyer from Rite Aid might find it easier to pursue his curious argument in the Soviet Union, where appearances by public officials are more controlled. The idea that Rite Aid would send out its minions to a courtroom to argue that City Councils "should have stayed home", is a remarkable insight into big box corporate culture, where the "will of the people" is a insufferable inconvenience. For more details on the Buffalo Rite Aid fiasco, contact Better-Buffalo@mailcity.com










 
 
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