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Top legal challenge survives in Whole Foods Plaza lawsuits, heads to December trial

Image shows the future Whole Foods location in the background with the rest of the plaza reflected in one of the building's front windows.
Brian Sharp
/
The future Whole Foods location is shown in the background with the rest of the plaza reflected in one of the plaza building's front windows.

A state Supreme Court decision Wednesday cleared away many of the legal challenges lodged against Whole Foods Plaza, its developers and the town of Brighton.

But Justice Scott Odorisi left standing an argument involving the preservation of the original Auburn Trail that seeks to shrink the size of the plaza. That matter remains headed for trial in December.

“We have said all along that the town’s approval process for this project was thorough and complete. The decision by Judge Odorisi confirms that fact,” town Supervisor Bill Moehle said in a statement.

Both Moehle and developer Anthony Daniele expressed confidence that they will prevail on the final claim.

Odorisi, however, wrote that opponents “have a compelling case.” His decision was driven by concerns that the plaza parking area will encroach on the Auburn Trail.

“The project is in far greater jeopardy than the developer and the town have been letting on,” said Howie Jacobson, president of Brighton Grassroots, one of the groups behind roughly two dozen lawsuits filed to date. “They have been fooling people for years by telling them that our claims are ‘frivolous.’”

The original trail route followed an abandoned railroad bed, and a section trekked onto the plaza property. Public use and the town’s commitment was well-established. The question to be decided at trial is whether it was effectively public property, and if the town improperly ceded it for private use.

At various points in his 84-page decision, Odorisi admonished town officials – and Mario Daniele, founder of Daniele Management and Development, in particular – for not following through on past commitments, contributing to the current standoff.

When Mario Daniele expanded the plaza property in the late 1990s, town approval came with the condition that he grant a trail easement, the judge wrote.

“Mario Daniele’s neighboring land owners all complied, but not him,” Odorisi said in his ruling, continuing later: "He got the quintessential benefit of the bargain – for which he now wants to renege – even though his project filings admit a full Auburn Trail across the lot. This does not sit well with the court as it is possibly a fraud against the town, and by virtue the public.”

The Danieles did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This legal fight has dragged on for nearly seven years. The plaza is largely complete and fully leased, with some tenants already opened or planning to open. Whole Foods is expected to welcome its first shoppers early next year.

And that, some argue, is what all this is really about. Because a mile down the road sits Wegmans’ flagship store. The local supermarket chain has helped finance the litigation.

“We will continue to fight,” Moehle said in his statement, “to ensure that a mammoth commercial competitor cannot dictate the future of our community and block important economic development and infrastructure improvements in Brighton.”

A Wegmans spokeswoman did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Brian Sharp is WXXI's business and development reporter. He has been covering Rochester since 2005, working most of that time as an investigative reporter with the Democrat and Chronicle. His journalism career spans nearly three decades.