Wegmans secretly funded anti-Whole Foods development groups

Business

Editor’s note: This article was modified on March 31, 2020 to remove references to an inaccurate statement that Brighton Grassroots founder, Howie Jacobson, admitted to lying about Wegman’s funding of recent litigation filed by the organization seeking to block a Whole Foods development. We apologize for the error. 

BRIGHTON, N.Y. (WROC) — Two local groups, which have long-opposed the proposed Whole Foods development in Brighton, are thanking Wegmans for supporting their cause.

Both groups, Brighton Grassroots and Save Monroe Avenue, publicly thanked Wegmans Thursday in their joint efforts to oppose the grocery store project — which is being put forward by development group, Daniele Family Companies.

The development itself has stalled in courts for years. Most recently, both sides claimed victory after a recent appellate court ruling.

This is the first instance of Wegmans publicly acknowledging its link to the development’s opposition. The groups say Wegmans’ support is because of traffic concerns along Monroe Avenue and not because Whole Foods is an industry competitor.

Town Supervisor, Bill Moehle, has previously voiced support for the Whole Foods Development.

A statement from Wegmans officials Thursday said in part:

“Wegmans is one of several hundred residents and businesses whose legitimate concerns about the Daniele Family Companies’ Monroe Avenue project were largely ignored. We were asked by these groups to help support legal action to correct the traffic congestion and safety problems that will result from this project.”

MORE| Brighton Whole Foods legal battle not over yet after appellate ruling

“Wegmans had made its concerns about traffic impacts from the oversized project known as far back as 2015, and when asked by the neighbors, it agreed to stand alongside the community to help protect it from the negative impacts resulting from the special deal given to the developer by Brighton Supervisor Bill Moehle,” said Brighton Grassroots in a statement.

“Wegmans has stepped up big-time to support its neighbors, and we’re very appreciative,” said Aaron M. Saykin, the attorney for Save Monroe Ave. “We also find it very ironic that a well-financed Developer — which is getting millions in incentives from the Town, and is being supported by the world’s largest internet retailer (Amazon as the owner of Whole Foods)—suddenly has a problem with community groups trying to match its resources. Apparently, everyone is supposed to just roll over for them. That’s not how it works.”

Until this point, Wegmans has never been publicly mentioned as a supporter of these groups.

Howie Jacobson of Brighton Grassroots says Wegmans is not an official member, but is a supporter and “one of our funders.” Additionally, Jacobson says Brighton Grassroots has been “very hesitant to let people know because of the Daniele’s harassment of anyone involved in our group.”

In an 2018 interview with News 8, Jacobson denied that Wegmans was involved in anyway with Brighton Grassroots. When asked about it, Jacobson said: “The answer is no. Why would they need to be involved? They’re a grocery store.”

Additionally, in an interview with News 8 Adam Chodak in 2017, Danny Wegman said Wegmans was not working behind the scenes to scuttle the project, but did mention that he was concerned about the traffic.

Today, Danny Daniele, the project’s developer, sent out this statement Thursday in response to the news:

“Wegmans and their secretive groups have been lying and deceiving the residents of Brighton and Pittsford for over two years. And now after their very own litigation court papers have forced them to reveal who’s been funding their assaults on the new Whole Foods plaza, Wegmans is trying to get ahead of the terrible public relations fiasco they have lied themselves into.”

Full statement from Wegmans:

“Wegmans is one of several hundred residents and businesses whose legitimate concerns about the Daniele Family Companies’ Monroe Avenue project were largely ignored.  We were asked by these groups to help support legal action to correct the traffic congestion and safety problems that will result from this project. 

“This project is currently too large for this corridor on Monroe Avenue, and it will create major traffic and safety problems that will impact every business and commuter, including our customers and employees.  Early on, the State DOT also recognized concerns about traffic congestion.

“We support responsible development that balances the interests of developers with the interests of the larger community, in a manner that is fair.  Economic development should never put at risk the infrastructure of any municipality and should always uphold the integrity of the zoning process.

“The Town of Brighton has bypassed over 50 standard zoning regulations and protections to advance this project, creating significant problems with this development. 

“Food retailers of all shapes and sizes have entered the Rochester market in the last 15 years.  Many opened multiple locations, some directly across from our stores.  Wegmans did not speak out in opposition, nor did we take legal action.  We know that a competitive market drives innovation and is good for consumers, but the traffic problems that this development would create are simply too great to ignore.”

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