Closing Stewart’s during construction would make the new building better sized for the space

To the Editor:

I am pleased that the board is going to do a State Environmental Quality Review of the Stewart’s rezone request. This will provide the public the full details about the project and its design. With a full proposal for reconstruction, the village board and the public will know what the actual project is so that the village board in its SEQR deliberations can assess the compatibility of the project with various aspects of the village’s current codes and comprehensive plan.

I am in agreement with the village’s planning consultant, Nan Stolzenburg who, in her analysis from 2015, wrote that the rezone “may be consistent” with the village’s comprehensive plan because the plan states that it is the village’s goal to maintain the Central Business District — which now contains both Stewart’s and 107-109 Helderberg Ave. — “as the major location for retail and services” in Altamont. This position is as important to consider as preserving the adjacent building which I hold as not as historically important as claimed in recent letters to the editor regarding Altamont’s period architecture.

I have held this position all along, but have taken issue with the design and construction parameters proposed by Stewart’s throughout the process. I agree that the zoning-change request makes sense provided the site planning creates a new structure that meets other zoning requirements for design, lot layout, etc, that will be considered by the zoning board if the village board makes a negative declaration in the SERQ review.

However, if Stewart’s continues to insist on keeping the parameters essentially the same, with no change to the building placement and size or rethinking of the construction plan, it will keep the situation at loggerhead.

Although I accept the need to expand the current space, I do believe that the insistence of Stewart’s to keep the business open during construction hampers any reasonable adjustments and compromises about its size that would be more acceptable to the community. 

The adjacent building may need to be demolished and the new building may be the right size, but constructing the new building so close to the property line is more a function of Stewart’s insistence to keep the current store open while the new building is constructed than any other reason given by Stewart’s, in my opinion.

Modifying the construction plan so the business is closed temporarily would make it possible to construct a larger building, and one that is more appropriate in size to the space, providing sufficient buffers from the adjacent remaining residential buildings. Consequently, the need for zoning variances would be minimized and the project would be better sized for the space.

In my opinion, making this adjustment to the current business model would make it possible to address many of the concerns from the community and would avoid the cost of future litigation to force fit the current construction proposal onto the site.

A keen businessperson would want to balance the cost of litigation and be willing to assume the cost of closing the store for several weeks in making a decision on how to proceed.

Another letter posted in last week’s edition argued that Stewart’s should limit its remodel to the existing lot. I do not necessarily agree with this position, but I believe Stewarts is an experienced business which has the ability to be creative in a construction approach that would address community concerns about size and placement of its remodel if it were willing to compromise on this point.

Indeed, compromise is important here. In the end, I trust that all parties, complaining residents, and Stewart’s, will be open to making adjustments to their respective positions, so the board can make a balanced and fair decision. Both sides holding hard to current positions does not help anyone and is harmful to the village in the long run.

James Gaughan, 


Editor’s note: James Gaughan was Altamont’s mayor from 2005 to 2017; he voted in favor of Stewart’s initial request to rezone the adjoining then-residential property as commercial.

More Letters to the Editor

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.