Does Stewart’s really have to stick it to our Victorian village?

— Photo from Harvey Vlahos

Ed Cowley painted Altamont’s village green, now called Orsini Park, from the front of the former bank building.

— Photo from Harvey Vlahos

The Stewart’s Shop in Brunswick horrified Altamont Planning Board members, according to Harvey Vlahos.

To the Editor:

No one has captured the spirit of Altamont, the charm and unique character of the village better than our own renowned Ed Cowley. For decades, Ed captured the architectural essence of our Victorian village, the fair, and the residents

Looking at these streetscapes, there’s a Norman Rockwell quality that makes Altamont unique in the Capital Region.  We have a gem here.

The creation of the comprehensive plan, Altamont's constitution, was the result of over a hundred residents spending, literally, thousands of hours creating a framework to preserve the essence and spirit of Altamont.

And for the skeptics, we say do the simple math. Over 100 residents spending just 10 hours a year (and it was much much more) for two years equals 2,000 hours at a minimum. Collectively it was probably closer to 4,000 to 5,000 hours.

Just think of the time spent going to every house in the village to drop off and collect surveys, giving every resident a chance to express his or her opinion.

Think of the hours to collate and tabulate the surveys. Then think of all the hours it took to draft up the codes and guidelines to implement all that information to preserve the intent of the comprehensive plan.


The Wayside Inn once stood on the site where the Stewart’s Shop currently stands.


— Photo from Harvey Vlahos
The corner of Main Street and Maple Avenue, painted by Ed Cowley.


— Photo from Harvey Vlahos
Maple Avenue, looking toward Main Street, painted by Ed Cowley.


The Altamont Comprehensive Plan is democracy in action, the will of the people.

That’s on the verge of being destroyed forever by Stewart’s and the village boards.  The zoning was defined by the residents to preserve the character of the neighborhood. (Because it was once commercial for about 8 percent to 10 percent of its 120-year existence is not justification to change it. And that justification is irrelevant as the comprehensive plan said keep 107-109 Helderberg Ave. residential, not change it back to Commercial Business District.)

Stewart’s submitted a series of plans that at first glance seem to have possibilities, until you look at how they will be executed, until you see how the Stewart’s definition of “Victorian” will be realized.

Here is the transcript of the last Altamont Planning Board meeting. 

Deb Hext: Did you do a Victorian looking Stewart’s somewhere? 

Chuck Marshall: In the town of Brunswick, we razed a building that was eligible for the historic register and part of our mitigation with SHPO [State Historic Preservation Office] we had to do some, you know, fairly decorative to match what that building was … and if you’d like I can pull that building up. 

Deb Hext: Yeah, I like to get a sense of comparison. I don't know how everybody else feels but, and I looked at it online and it did look interesting, and ah, at least for a sense of comparison.  

While Chuck Marshall was working to get the photo up onto the screen the planning board discussed a preference between a brick veneer or cultured stone.  

Barb Muhfelder: I like the stone idea better. There was something about the brick that I thought was kind of  jarring. I don’t know, it, ah would not be my first choice.   And I would like to see the Victorian plans. A lot of people in the village would be pleased to, ah at least do maybe, maybe not what we have now, but maybe more Victorian. 

Then this photo of the Stewart’s concept of  “Victorian” architecture that was to mitigate destroying a historic-register house popped up on the screen.

There was an audible stunned involuntary “Oooh,” which I believe came from Barb Muhfelder and another “oh” from another female board member followed by literally 12 seconds of disbelieving are-you-kidding-me silence.     

Deb Hext: So, ah

Barb Muhfelder: “Oh no” followed by a disbelieving low laugh, 

Deb Hext: a low drawn-out “Yeah.”

Barb Muhfelder: No. No.

Deb Hext commented on her preference for the stone on the bottom, but then the conversation turned back to the appropriateness of the “Victorian” design.

Barb Muhfelder: Oh, but the rest.

Deb Hext: But the clapboard and everything, I don't know.

Barb Muhfelder: No it’s just, no, it’s just awkward. I don’t, the, the design seems very strange on this. But I agree I like the stone, and I like the posts, but that’s it. (Off camera laughter) Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude.


— Photo from Harvey Vlahos
The bollards in front of Stewart’s look like they belong at an industrial loading dock, not a Victorian village, says Harvey Vlahos.



The Stewart’s plan for its proposed Altamont shop.


It is within the planning board’s authority and responsibility — and I stress responsibility — to insist Stewart’s go back to the drawing board and design something more appropriate and in keeping with the comprehensive plan so that we can preserve the essence of Altamont.

Stewart’s is a multi-billion dollar corporation and it is well within its means to change the design. Stewart’s is embarking on a $75,000,000 building and expansion spree as reported in the Albany Business Review. Does Stewart’s really have to stick it to our Victorian village? Of course not. 

If Stewart’s can’t do it in-house, then it should hire a firm that cannot only design something more appropriate, but can create a life-like photo rendering so that the village can see what it will actually look like.

It’s very, very obvious, as evidenced by the gasps, the 14 seconds of stunned silence, and the “No, no” comments that the drawings do not do that. If Stewart’s is incapable of designing and photo-rendering a more appropriate design, CSN has the services of a registered, creative architect that Stewart’s can hire. 

The bollards in front of the store belong at an industrial loading dock, not a Victorian village. When a board member asked that they look more like the ones at Altamont Corners, Chuck Marshall said they were not doing that. Why not, Chuck?

Stewart’s has demonstrated from the beginning that the best that Altamont can expect is to be thrown a few scraps. At one of the first meetings, Maurice McCormick, then the zoning board chairman, said words to this effect: “We’re giving Stewart’s a lot of concessions. What is Stewart’s giving the village?”

Chuck Marshall replied, “Stewart’s doesn't like to be extorted.”

Yes, it’s actually on tape. In other words, the sentiment is” “We’re Stewart’s; we can do what we want and here’s a giant middle finger.”

Maurice’s reward for putting the spirit of Altamont first — getting booted off the board by Kerry Dineen, after 20-plus years of excellent service?   

Why are the various boards rolling over for Stewart’s to the detriment of our Victorian village? 

Last week, Tom Capuano of Historic Altamont suggested replicating the Wayside Inn.  If you look at it, it’s very similar to the footprint of the design Stewart’s wants to build, less the addition on the back.

Why not, planning board? This is not a rhetorical question!

We’re calling on all residents to ask the members Deb Hext, Barbara Muhfelder, Connie Rue, Steve Caruso, and John Hukey, why not insist that Stewart’s build something that complies with the voice of the people.

Please don't tell us that you’re going to ignore thousands of hours of work by your friends and neighbors. 

Remember, Stewart’s is not leaving. It will create a very negative change in the very heart of the village and the neighborhood.

Please answer: What is the village gaining? It is not creating diversity. The expansion will make it harder for the mom-and-pop stores owned by friends and neighbors to prosper.

And don't forget that Carol Rothenberg, a 40-year resident, is getting shafted, losing about $50,000 in the value of her home. How can the boards approve something that benefits a huge corporation and sticks it to a long-time village resident?  

Please, Deb, Barb, Connie, Steve and John, protect and respect Altamont or give us overwhelming reasons why not.

Harvey Vlahos


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