Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York is suing the town of Henrietta after the majority of its Town Board voted against issuing a special use permit for a Planned Parenthood clinic to operate in a retail plaza.
Jefferson Plaza, located at 376 Jefferson Road across from South Town Plaza, falls under the town’s B1 Commercial District zoning.
Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit, filed last month, asserts that its permit application met town zoning and land-use criteria to open in a B1 district and that the denial “came down to personal opinions and public objections surrounding abortion services.”
Prior to the June 22 vote (two days before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, ending abortion rights in many states but not New York), protestors and supporters rallied outside Henrietta Town Hall on Calkins Road, and board members heard comments from dozens of Rochester area residents. Many said they opposed the clinic and urged officials to be guided by conscience rather than land-use law.
Town Supervisor Stephen Schultz and board member Millie Sefranek — both Democrats — voted to grant the permit and in resolution paperwork stated the application met 10 requirements needed for approval, including aligning with the town’s comprehensive plan for commercial/business areas and the intent of B1 district standards to provide “service needs.”
They also pointed out that urgent care clinics and other medical offices occupy spaces throughout the town’s B1 zones. A major one is now under construction — URMC Orthopaedics’ 330,000-square-foot clinic at Marketplace Mall.
“I absolutely felt (the application) met the requirements,” Schultz said Monday.
Republicans Lisa Bolzner, M. Rick Page and Joseph Bellanca voted against it.
In the same resolution document, they wrote that “a surgical medical facility” is “completely inconsistent” with the purpose and character of Jefferson Plaza and that it lacks space for vehicles picking up patients after procedures or patients needing ambulance transport.
But unlike URMC’s Marketplace facility, the Planned Parenthood clinic would not perform surgery, Michelle Casey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York, told the town.
Rather, she said, it would offer “medication abortion” up to 11 weeks gestation and “in-clinic abortion” to 13.6 weeks, which is not considered a surgical procedure by the New York State Department of Health, and added that no anesthesiologist would be on-site.
Further, the court documents state that Planned Parenthood facilities do not offer any services that would result in patients needing help walking afterward.
When asked by the town about the frequency of ambulance transfers at Rochester-area clinics, Planned Parenthood said that in 2020 the nonprofit’s University Avenue location had two, and in 2021 there were three.
Town's chances of prevailing are slim: Schultz
The suit also notes that during the public hearing prior to the vote, Bolzner, Page and Bellanca showed empathy for people who opposed the clinic based on moral or religious grounds.
“This is really difficult,” court paperwork quotes Bolzner as saying. “It’s important that we represent you.”
Bolzner and Page did not respond to an emailed request for comment on the substance of the suit or to further explain their thinking.
Bellanca responded by writing, “As the matter is currently in litigation, it is inappropriate for anyone on our Town Board team to publicly comment at this time.”
On Monday, Schultz said that based on conversations with Bolzner, he understood one of her main concerns to be negative effects the clinic could have on neighboring businesses — for instance, a boycott of the plaza.
“She’s an advocate for small business owners,” Schultz said. “And she had spoken to shop owners who felt that they would be adversely affected by having Planned Parenthood next door.”
In the court documents, Planned Parenthood said that in addition to abortion, the clinic would offer “a variety of health care services, including but not limited to … contraception, breast exams, gender-affirming hormone care, STI testing and treatment, and HIV testing, prevention, counseling, and education.”
The suit seeks to nullify the board’s June 22 vote, direct it to vote to approve the permit, pay Planned Parenthood’s legal fees and grant “other relief as the Court deems just, equitable, and proper.”
On Monday, Casey did not say what that relief would look like. However, “We’re suffering damages because we are not able to proceed with the project, and there’s a need for services that’s not being met,” she said.
The case will be heard in New York State Supreme Court, but a date has not been set.
Schultz believes that based on the town’s zoning and land-use regulations, Henrietta's chances of prevailing are slim.
He mentioned concerns being raised by his Democratic brethren to Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby opening in Henrietta because of the political leanings of those companies. However, both projects were approved. “You don’t have to like them,” he said. “It’s a land-use issue, not a political decision.”
He also expressed disappointment about the legal fees that will be borne by Henrietta taxpayers because of the Planned Parenthood dispute.
Asked whether a settlement might be possible before the matter goes to trial, Casey said, “Anything’s possible, but it would have to be if the town changed their mind and approved it.”
Schultz said the town’s attorney reached out to Planned Parenthood about mediation.
“But they made it clear they’re not going to negotiate," he said.
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Planned Parenthood suing Henrietta over denial of special use permit