David Day of the Azalea Neighborhood Association isn't sure who his future neighbors on Elmwood Avenue will be. He knows, however, who he doesn't want: Wegmans or any other large-scale commercial operation.
New York State owns the land now occupied by the Terrance Building of the Rochester Psychiatric Center. Soon, the state will send out requests for proposals for the property. Day isn't waiting to see who gets it. Earlier this month, he circulated petitions opposing a Wegmans development there, collecting more than 230 signatures in two weeks. Day presented the petitions at City Council's June 22 meeting and at the Brighton Town Board meeting the next day.
The food giant has talked about putting a store on Elmwood Avenue for more than a decade, but for the moment, Wegmans won't pursue the site, says Media Relations Manager Jo Natale. Wegmans has talked with city officials about the property within the last six months, Natale says, but those officials "made it clear that they are not interested in retail for that site," she says.
"So it doesn't look like we can get the necessary zoning approvals," Natale says.
Day says a Wegmans on Elmwood might cause increased traffic, noise, and ambient lighting and could lower the value of homes in the neighborhood.
He suggests that the land might be better suited for a cemetery, low-density housing, or boutique-type shops. "Any large-scale commercial development would be really out of keeping with the residential character of Elmwood Avenue," he says.
Most of the psych-center campus is within the city, but a small piece is in Brighton, and Brighton Town Supervisor Sandra Frankel shares Day's sentiments about a large retail development. "I continue to have concerns about a superstore at that location because of issues related to traffic and other impacts on the residential neighborhoods," says Frankel. "I think Wegmans is an outstanding company that provides excellent retail services, but the psychiatric-center site is the wrong place for a retail outlet."
In his petition drive, David Day has followed the example of neighborhood activists in Brighton, who fought to keep Wegmans off land now occupied by the Brighton Meadows development. "The thing that we had going for us was that they didn't own the land yet," says Judy Schwartz, who chairs Brighton Neighbors United and is president of the Virginia Colony Neighborhood Association and a member of the Brighton Zoning board.
"Our protesting made a difference," she says, "and that's why I really encouraged these folks to get going before there was any deal. It's impossible once they own the land."
Fanning the flames
The Little Theatre has been caught in an e-mail war over Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore's anti-Bush documentary, which opened last Friday.
The commotion started when MoveAmericaForward.org, former California Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian's pro-Bush, pro-war Web site, included the Little on a national list of movie theaters planning to show the film. The Web site urged readers to send e-mails to try to stop or limit Fahrenheit's release, calling the film "an attempt to undermine the war on terror."
When news of the e-mail barrage got out, a second Web site, the liberal MoveOn.org, launched a counterattack. Theaters across the country were flooded with messages, and the Little received over 7,000.
At the Little, the e-mail sentiment has been heavily --- 5 to 1 --- pro-Moore, says Bill Coppard, executive director of the Little Theatre Film Society. (Little patrons can read a selection of the e-mails posted in the theater's back hallway.)
The documentary is "certainly getting people to talk," says Coppard: people are arguing outside the theater, "saying 'this is totally inaccurate, this is unfair,' and other people will say, 'oh, yes it is.'"
"It's going to be fun," says Coppard.
Fahrenheit 9/11 --- whose title is taken from Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451 about the end of individual thought and freedom --- is a 110-minute criticism of the Bush administration and its actions around the 9/11 attacks. From the outset, the filmhas been the center of controversy.
In addition to the heated debate between political sides, there was the struggle to find a distributor, Moore's admission that he had footage of abuse of the Iraqi prisoners before the mainstream media did, and Mario Cuomo's attempt to help Moore overturn the film's R rating.
Three other local theaters --- Cinemark Tinseltown, Loews Webster, and Pittsford Cinemas --- are showing the film, but none of them are on the MoveAmericaForward list. Coppard speculates that the Little was included because it has always had Fahrenheit on its schedule.
"As soon as we knew the film was going to be available, we started making phone calls to ensure that we were included in on the run," Coppard says. "Some of the other theaters were more ambivalent," he says, so they waited to schedule the film.
Some of the e-mails opposing the film "are pretty nasty," Coppard says, and "some are pretty funny." They accuse the theater of everything from a lack of patriotism to treason, and many promise boycotts.
The Little has responded to all e-mails with a simple statement: "The Little Theatre will be showing Fahrenheit 9/11, opening June 25," followed by the text of the First Amendment. The movie's first weekend at the Little went well, and without any of the rumored protests. All the evening shows were sold out, and matinees were full.