Parking a sticking point in approval of new Stonewell Plaza liquor store

NEW SCOTLAND — After 30 years working for the United States Postal Service, Sandra Zeh is eligible to retire this year, yet rather than enjoying the fruits of her labor she has aspirations of starting her own small business. But her dream is on hold because parking at the site of her proposed liquor store, Stonewell Plaza, is already well over the maximum capacity that space and code allows. 

Zeh and her husband, Gary, had been before the New Scotland Planning Board at its February and March meetings with their proposal, but the couple’s application is on hold for the moment, Building Inspector Jeremy Cramer told The Enterprise this week.

The Zehs did not respond to requests for an interview. 

The owner of Stonewell Plaza has acquired an attorney who in turn has reached out to planning and zoning board attorney Crystal Peck and is now trying to come up with a compromise that might work instead of paying for a parking analysis that is only going to show what is already known by nearly everyone involved: The site has too few spots to accommodate plaza businesses or to meet what is called for in the code.

The last conversation between the two sides called for three more parking spaces on the side of the building opposite Route 85A, near the Dumpsters. The applicant and owner were asked for a site plan as well. 

“I don’t know if it’ll work or not,” Cramer said, “but we’re open to hearing what they have to say.”

Cramer also surmised the Zehs would appear on the planning board’s May agenda. 

Stonewell Plaza, located at the intersection of routes 85 and 85A, may have been built prior to New Scotland adopting its first zoning ordinances, in 1965, so the parking regulations may have been grandfathered in — the earliest paperwork the town has on Stonewell dates back to 1969, it was said during the March 2 meeting. 

But the Zehs would be subject to current zoning since they are applying for a new use. 

The previous use of the space, by a physical therapist, required 7.5 parking spots, Peck said. 

As a retail use, the Zehs liquor store would need 11 dedicated parking spots.

The code calls for one parking spot for every 180 square feet of a retail business.

Gary Zeh pointed out that the space’s previous use, by a physical therapist, was more likely to draw a longer-term and an earlier-morning crowd whereas liquor-store customers would be in and out 10 minutes — while there would also likely be little overlap with the Windowbox Café next store, which serves breakfast and lunch.

Board member Peter Richards also made the point that there had been a liquor store in the plaza previously, so it’s not a new use for the building, just for the particular store front.

There are 36 parking spaces on-site, but, given the current uses in the plaza, there should be closer to 53 spots — and that’s a number that doesn’t take into account the parking needed for Normanskill Custom Cabinetry, according to the arithmetic provided to the board during the meeting.

Windowbox Café parking is based on the number of seats and employees, which comes to 17 parking spots. 

Pizza By Dominick has six allocated spots

Fourteen spots are set aside for Something Olde, Something New, a consignment shop for women’s clothing and vintage home decor.

Vic’s Town Barbershop, based on square footage, has about six allocated spots.

Studio 85 Hair Salon, based on square footage, has about 10 allocated spots.

But anecdotally, board members said they had never seen Stonewell Plaza’s parking lot completely in use.

Board member Christine Galvin said it would be “folly” not to perform a parking study, and that she wouldn’t vote on the application without the parking information. 

The board was “leaning” toward requiring a parking analysis. 

“I think most of us would like to see that additional information before offering an opinion,” said board Chairman Charles Voss. “That’s kind of how our board has particularly worked in the past, so I wouldn’t want to mislead the applicant with maybe a straw poll.”

Galvin suggested keeping the public hearing open so the applicant could go to the owner of the plaza to see if she would foot the bill for the parking study. 

“I’m not even sure it’s a good fiscal move for us to move forward with a [parking] study, [given] the amount of spaces we’re going to need in that location,” Gary Zeh said.

The town engineer recommended a $1,000 escrow deposit for the study.

In the end, the planning board did not require the parking study, instead allowing the Zehs time to ponder what they’d like to do next — which appears to be letting Stonewell’s attorney deal with the planning board’s lawyer.

The public hearing was kept open and will likely be kept open until the Zehs return before the board. 

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