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Henrietta's electoral seasoning

"We're having a fun summer in Henrietta," says Jim Breese, town supervisor for 18 years now.

            Breese is referring to a rift in Henrietta's Republican political establishment, which definitely hasn't been amusing itself lately.

The rift will be on display in Henrietta voting booths September 9. Breese, running for re-election, is facing off in the Republican primary against County Legislator and former Henrietta town board member Jack Driscoll.

            There's a difference of opinion about who's after whom. Breese says Driscoll is the challenger simply because he, Driscoll, is trying to unseat an incumbent. But Driscoll, not the incumbent, got the nod from the Republican town committee earlier this year --- so Driscoll naturally feels that Breese, by provoking a primary, is the real challenger.

            Painting one's opponent as the outsider is sometimes efficacious. But there's more to the Henrietta supervisor primary than "back at you" or semantics.

            Like other towns in this region, Henrietta lives at the intersection of growth and disinvestment. Thus the town has been working on a comprehensive plan (the previous one dates from 1997). A new town code went on the books this year, too.

            The challenges are quintessentially suburban: exploiting the town's location as "a commercial and industrial hub" at the intersection of major routes like I-90 and I-390; preserving some of the town's 16 square miles of undeveloped land for agriculture, parks, and other uses; dealing with new commercial and residential development, as well as filling vacant retail spaces; and creating a "town center" of some kind, along with quality-of-life enhancements like pedestrian and biking facilities.

"It's about time for a change" in administrations, says Driscoll. "[Breese's] 18 years is long enough."

            But what specifically needs to be done? Driscoll points to the town's many commercial vacancies, like the former Hechinger's on West Henrietta Road near Jefferson Road. In a recent newsletter, Breese announced a half dozen successful re-uses of vacant space, including a move by the retailer Kohl's to take over the "long vacant Hechinger's Plaza." But Driscoll is skeptical. Breese, he says, "has 'filled' that building every election for the last few elections." Driscoll would like to look at the Hechinger's site as part of a whole --- including the newly vacant K-Mart nearby. "I propose the town and the developers sit down and plan an internal road system" for the combined sites, he says. "This takes a lot of negotiating."

            If Henrietta has a real town center, it's a stretch of Calkins Road between East Henrietta Road and the I-390 overpass. There you'll find, among other things, the town offices and library, a town park, the Monroe County Fairgrounds, and an extensive residential area. Most significant for this election season, a debate is swirling about the future of the Wegmans supermarket near the corner of East Henrietta and Calkins. Wegmans would like to replace this store with a larger one. Henriettans are asking, though, if the company should be allowed to leave its current site and use a large tract between the fairgrounds and town park. How, they ask, would such a move affect the whole neighborhood?

            Breese says only that the supermarket's plans are on hold until September or October. He charges that Driscoll vacillated, first opposing the plan for a larger store, then supporting it.

            Driscoll dismisses the charge and throws it back. Breese, he says, "swings with the wind." He says dryly that the plan is "sitting now awaiting a decision, pending the election." He adds that he doesn't believe a supermarket belongs on the acreage near the fairgrounds. And he's concerned about the extent of the new construction. The plan, he says, actually called for two stores (one of them the supermarket) plus a bank and a senior center.

            He suggests Wegmans should look at expanding the existing site to accommodate a larger store --- and takeover adjacent commercial properties if necessary.

            "Wegmans is a good company," says Driscoll. "They have the right to build a superstore." But they need to build it, he says, "on land already zoned commercial."

Is there a bottom line to this primary contest?

            Breese asks why a primary even had to happen. He claims Driscoll is acting purely from ambition. He charges, too, that Driscoll "helped stack" the Republican Party committee that voted 56-43 in his favor.

            Driscoll is more philosophical, or rhetorical. The primary and election, he says, are about "what the town's future will be."

Primary facts

Primary elections will be held for several elected offices in Monroe County on September 9. To vote in a town primary, you must be a registered member of the political party holding the election and a town resident. Polling hours will be noon to 9 p.m. Information: Monroe County Board of Elections, 428-4550 (TDD: 428-2390).