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Whole Foods could push Monroe to breaking point


The stretch of Monroe Avenue between I-590 and Clover Street is congested and chaotic. And Brighton officials and residents worry that putting a Whole Foods store and retail plaza along the north side of this densely developed corridor will only aggravate the situation.

"We're going to have to look to see what further impact this will have, what ways there are of mitigating it," says Brighton Supervisor Bill Moehle. "The proposal as it now stands is certainly not cast in concrete."

The Daniele family is proposing four buildings, totaling about 94,000 square feet of space. A 55,000-square-foot Whole Foods store would go in roughly the same location as the now-closed Mario's restaurant on Monroe, which was owned and operated by the Danieles. One of the other buildings would be a standalone Starbucks coffee shop with a drive-through.

A public hearing on the project's environmental statement will take place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 22, at Brighton Town Hall, 2300 Elmwood Avenue. Traffic considerations are part of the environment statement.

The town will also take written comments on the statement through 5 p.m. on Monday, July 18. Send your comments to the town clerk at Town Hall.

The development would be on a segment of Monroe that carries approximately 39,000 vehicles a day on average, according to the State Department of Transportation; it's the busiest section of Monroe Avenue.

During peak times, traffic on this stretch moves at the pace of sludge. Cars stack up at lights, intersections get blocked with cars, and desperate drivers often divert to residential streets looking for an out.

Even when traffic flows well, there are still roughly a dozen driveways off that section of Monroe and a turn lane down the center of road, which all adds up to a confusing and sometimes risky mess.

"The road system on Monroe Avenue is failing," says Robert Galbraith, who lives on Allens Creek Road.

The Danieles pitched the development as an asset to Brighton. They tout the tax benefits and the new shopping options, and they offered to improve sidewalks and a multi-use trail that pass along or through the site. In return, they're asking the town to let them build a project that's far bigger than allowed under the site's current zoning.

The developers estimate that the project, particularly the marquee grocer, will pull in a few hundred vehicles during peak hours: some new and some that would've passed through the corridor anyway. And they've presented a plan to try to improve traffic flow.

Under the proposal, the Whole Foods Plaza would have two driveways, one of which would line up with a new traffic light. The developers are also working with a few property owners on the south side of Monroe Avenue to consolidate driveways and locate a main access at the proposed light, which would be located at what's now the driveway of the Sakura Home restaurant.

The developers say that reducing the number of entrance and exit points on the target stretch of road will improve traffic flow by creating safer, better functioning roadways. But their environmental document also says that the signal could cause additional peak-hour delays within the corridor.

"The future growth and vitality of this segment of the Monroe Avenue corridor depends largely on achieving a balance between the future transportation and land-use demands within the corridor," the environmental document says.

Government officials and residents near the project site say that the developers need to convince them that the signal and access plan will alleviate the additional traffic caused by the development. They're concerned that the developers might have underestimated the project's potential impact on traffic and they're worried about the possibility of extended delays in the corridor, they say.

The State DOT has to approve the light, but department staff told the developers that it appears warranted. But the DOT, too, cautioned about additional delays during peak times.

"We want to make sure that we're not introducing a circumstance or we're going to have traffic backing up on the expressway, for example," says Lori Maher, a spokesperson for the State DOT's Rochester regional office. "We don't want traffic stopped on 590, we don't want intersections further down the corridor to be impacted and then not function properly."

Allens Creek resident Robert Galbraith says that the Danieles should pursue a development that doesn't impact traffic as much as Whole Foods, which would draw shoppers from across the region. But it's unlikely that the developers will walk away from a tenant with the prestige and profile of Whole Foods.

Other residents suggest scaling the project back; a destination grocery store and big retail plaza are just too much for the site, they say. Town officials have dropped similar hints. During a May 25 meeting, Town Board member Chris Werner said that he wants the site developed, but that the Daniele family's project may be too intense for the "really difficult" corridor.

State DOT staff says that the developers could build a "relief valve" by putting access points for the plaza off of Clover Street, Allens Creek Road, or both. But many people in the adjacent neighborhoods don't like that idea, because it might increase traffic on their residential streets. The developers removed access via Clover or Allens Creek from their most recent plans.

Ben Werzinger, who lives in the Shoreham Drive neighborhood off of Clover Street, says that he can live with the plaza as long as it doesn't have access points off of Clover or Allens Creek.

"I'm just a little bit concerned that at the end of the day that we can hold them to that," he says. "I feel like they're sort of angling to put that back on the table and that's worrisome."