Stewart’s Altamont lawsuit is no more

— Photo from Carol Rothenberg 

Not long for this world: In November 2019, the Altamont Board of Trustees approved rezoning the Stewart’s-owned parcel of land at 107-109 Helderberg Ave. for the second time in less than a year. The lawsuit that prompted the second rezone was voluntarily discontinued in December 2019. The Tyson Family, who lived in the home for 17 years, moved out of the duplex in July 2019. The home is to be torn down to make way for the Stewart’s expansion now that the property is zoned commercial rather than residential.

ALTAMONT — The lawsuit that was filed in April 2019 by a small group of Altamont residents seeking to overturn a zoning change approved by the village board in December 2018 began to fall apart in August 2019, when the board of trustees successfully argued that the Concerned Severson Neighbors had failed to show that the rezone was illegal. 

By November 2019, the remainder of the lawsuit was rendered moot when the village board voted for a second time to rezone 107-109 Helderberg Ave. from residential to commercial, rescinding the subject of the April 2019 suit and paving the way for a new shop at Stewart’s Altamont Boulevard location. 

But the suit wasn’t brought to its legal conclusion until last month, when Albany County Supreme Court Judge James Ferreira signed off on a Dec. 12 Stipulation and Order of Discontinuance, a voluntarily-agreed upon termination of litigation.

The order states that all sides of the suit — the Concerned Severson Neighbors, the Altamont Board of Trustees, and Stewart’s Shops — agree that the action is “discontinued with prejudice,” a legal definition that means the Concerned Severson Neighbors give up their right to seek legal action in the future, not a big deal considering the law that the group sued to overturn no longer exists. 

The order also states that none of the parties will pay for the other’s legal fees. 

Although the suit is no more, it prompted Stewart’s in June 2019 to reapply for the zoning change the village board had already approved in December 2018, which forced the board to take a closer look at the impacts of the rezone. 

Should the Concerned Severson Neighbors take issue with the November 2019 rezone, they would have to file a new lawsuit — which isn’t out of the realm of possibility. 

Harvey Vlahos of the Concerned Severson Neighbors told The Enterprise that his group is still waiting for a copy of Part 3 of the village board’s State Environmental Quality Review from the November 2019 meeting, where the rezone of 107-109 Helderberg Ave. was approved for a second time.

Meanwhile, on Feb. 11, the village’s zoning board of appeals will hold a public hearing on three variance requests made by Stewart’s that the company says its needs in order to build a new code-compliant 3,340-foot store.


At its September and October 2019 meetings, the village board had put off making a decision on the rezone, twice citing the need for more time to determine what, if any, impact the project would have on the environment. 

At its September 2019 meeting, following a public hearing on the rezone of the Stewart’s-owned property at 107-109 Helderberg Ave., as the village board began its discussion, it soon became clear that more time was needed to go through the short environmental assessment form, in part because the board had, just a day earlier, received a new in-depth review of the proposed zoning change from village’s planning consultant, Nan Stolzenburg.

With the ink still drying on Stolzenburg’s 30-page analysis, the board decided it would be too hasty to both go through an environmental review and make a decision on the rezone. 

At its October 2019 meeting, the village board went through Part 2 — 11 questions — of the state’s short-form environmental assessment review and determined that, when considering Stewart’s proposal in light of each question, the project’s impact was moderate-to-large (no-to-small impact is the only other option) on three of the assessment’s questions:

— Will the proposed action create a material conflict with an adopted land-use plan or zoning regulations?;

— Will the proposed action result in a change in the use or intensity of use of land?; and 

— Will the proposed action impair the character or quality of the existing community?.

After answering each of the three questions, the next thing the board had to do was to come up with a determination of significance, which is the third and final part of the short-form environmental assessment review.

In the determination of significance, for each question in Part 2 that was answered “moderate to large impact may occur,” the village board had to explain in detail why the proposed project “may or will not” result in an adverse impact on the environment. 

At this point, the board had to decide if the moderate-to-large impacts could be mitigated with processes already in place in the village, for example, zoning.

While, legally, the board would only have to explain its reasoning in answering the first three environmental-assessment questions, it was advised by the village attorney, John Hartzell, that, in light of the Concerned Severson Neighbors lawsuit, the board should explain its reasoning for its answers to each of the 11 questions.

The board agreed with Hartzell and agreed that he would come up with a working draft of the determination of significance to which the board would make revisions as it saw fit, which was to be presented at the November 2019 board of trustees meeting. 

At that meeting, however, the board offered its reasoning for only three of the 11 questions as to why the project’s impact would not be significant for purposes of the State Environmental Quality Review.

Vlahos said that he’s “not sure if there’s still the issue of segmentation” with the SEQR process, in addition he said that he’s still trying to determine the village board’s “rationale and justification” for making a negative SEQR declaration.

A negative declaration means there would be minimal environmental impact.

The original petition filed by the Concerned Severson Neighbors in April 2018 had two core components:

— Annulling and vacating the December 2018 law, because the village board violated state law by segmenting the SEQR process when it considered the potential impact only of rezoning 107-109 Helderberg Ave., and did not take into consideration the potential environmental impact the construction of a new store would have; and

— Reverting the zoning of 107-109 Helderberg Ave. back to its original residential designation because, as a commercially-zoned parcel, it was not in accordance with the village’s comprehensive plan, and, therefore, a case of illegal spot zoning. The village board had this portion of the lawsuit successfully tossed in August 2019.

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