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Court denies latest challenge to Whole Foods plaza

A state Supreme Court Justice has ruled that the town of Brighton and developers of the Whole Foods Market plaza complied with state law regarding easements and parklands, meaning change to the scope and scale of the project is not necessary.

In the ruling issued Wednesday in state Supreme Court of Monroe County, Justice J. Scott Odorisi also determined that a public referendum on the whether the town illegally gifted Auburn Trail parkland to the developer is not necessary.

A collection of neighborhood groups argued that the town improperly granted public property to a private entity when issuing a zoning variance to the Daniele Family for development of the plaza along Monroe Avenue near Interstate 590.

Brighton Grassroots, the lead citizens group opposing the size of the development, argued during a nearly month-long bench trial that some of the buildings in the plaza infringed on the Auburn Trail.

As such, the group said there was a violation of state law because no public referendum took place regarding the gifting of public property.

But in his ruling, Justice Odorisi wrote:

“The trial proof showed that: the Auburn Trail was not dedicated land, or in the alternative, there is no alienation or substantial interference; and, that the town’s easements were not forfeited thereby vitiating the need for a permissive referendum.”

While truck traffic and the buildings will infringe on the Auburn Trail, Justice Odorisi wrote that there is no violation of the public trust doctrine because there “is not total conversion of the easements to an exclusively private use.” The public still has access to the trail, he said.

The plaintiffs aren’t giving up, however.

“This verdict was always headed to an appeals court, regardless of who won,” said Howie Jacobson, spokesperson for Brighton Grassroots. “That’s where cases like this are decided once and for all.

“We appreciate the Court’s time and effort in moving our case forward, and we now look forward to quickly moving to the next phase of this litigation, where we believe we have very strong arguments.”

Some stores in the plaza are already operating. Whole Foods is expected to open this spring.

Back in September, the court dismissed 15 other motions filed by some or all of the citizens groups. Those motions alleged that there were missteps by the town board, failures to obtain proper approvals and violations of open meeting laws.

But Justice Odorisi allowed the final motion to proceed to trial: whether the town of Brighton complied with state law in granting a zoning variance four years ago.

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