Voorheesville proposes six-month moratorium on gas stations as Stewart’s plans one in village

VOORHEESVILLE — Voorheesville Mayor Robert Conway says the village is proposing a moratorium, suspending the construction of gas stations for six months, because of a longstanding concern about water contamination. Engineers are already at work, seeking a fourth well site for the village, he said.

“It’s more about zoning than water quality,” says Chuck Marshall of Stewart’s Shops, which wants to build a convenience store and gas station on Maple Avenue at the site of Smith’s Tavern, a popular eatery in the village.

If the village board adopts the moratorium, Marshall said, “It could jeopardize the sale.”

A public hearing on the proposed law will be held at the village hall on Wednesday, Sept. 7, at 6 p.m.

Marshall maintains that the village doesn’t want two gas stations next to each other. A Mobile station is adjacent to Smith’s Tavern. “I’ve made an offer to the company that owns the Mobil station,” said Marshall, referencing Sunoco L.P. “Nothing’s come of it; they’re not interested in selling.”

Marshall also pointed out that the parcel where Smith’s tavern has long stood is zoned for a convenience store with a gas station while the property where the Mobil station stands is zoned residential.

“We are the permitted use for that property,” said Marshall. “The moratorium would prohibit Stewart’s from developing. They’re not going to put wells next to the Mobil station.”

Mayor’s view

Conway says that Voorheesville currently has three wells, all located within 200 yards of the railroad tracks in the Grove Street area.

The main well pumps 600 gallons per minute, he said, and the others pump 400 and 200 gallons per minute.

“There is always concern about contamination if there were an accident on the tracks with a spill of contaminants,” said Conway, noting that the wells are only 60 feet deep and close to the tracks.

“We have two water tanks to store water to use for pressure for the fire-suppression system,” Conway said of the village hydrants. The tanks would also serve as a backup supply in an emergency.

The village water supply is also connected to the town of Guilderland’s, and the water can flow both ways when needed. Guilderland routinely buys water from the city of Albany but hasn’t been able to since Albany had a water main break this summer, still under repair. So Voorheesville, through the interconnect, is currently supplying Guilderland with 200,000 gallons a day. “We charge the going rate,” Conway said, noting the interconnect is not meant to be a money-maker but, rather, a backup in case of contamination or other emergency.

“With all the news on PFOAs in Hoosick Falls,” Conway said of the perfluorooctanoic acid found in water there, “we tested ours for our peace of mind. We were fine — no PFOAs.”

But, he went on, it “highlighted the unknown and the fragility” of water sources.

About 1,800 people currently use public water from Voorheesville, both village residents as well as outsiders, said Conway. The water system, he said, will “grow as much as the village grows; it can potentially supply all the undeveloped land in the village.”

In 2008, the village had its engineers, Barton & Loguidice, conduct a water-source capacity study for Voorheesville. (The village later switched engineers when Richard Straut, who works for Barton & Loguidice, became a Voorheesville trustee.)

“The analysis indicates that there is sufficient water source capacity to supply potential build-out development within the Village,” the 2008 report says, “and that build-out of the Village would  commit 100% of the current permitted water source capacity with no excess available for additional out-of-Village customers.”

The report made two recommendations to increase capacity: reducing leakage, which accounted for 32 percent of the amount pumped, and upgrading the well system

This week, Conway stressed that the moratorium would be “temporary while we’re searching for another well site.” He went on, “Once we site it, we’ll need a protected area proscribed, surrounding the well, with extra precautions.”

Asked about the timeline, Conway said, “We’ve engaged our engineers to begin the search; it’s already underway.”

The mayor also said that the moratorium “doesn’t stand in opposition” to Stewart’s plans for a convenience store and gas station where Smith’s Tavern now stands. “It’s a step-back moment. We understand the ramifications it has,” said the mayor. “It’s not an outright ban.”

If a new well site is found outside of the area where Smith’s Tavern and the Mobil station now stand, “no harm, no foul,” said Conway. “If the well site is within Smitty’s area, it may require more precautions.”

Asked about the likelihood of siting a new well next to a gas station, Conway said,  “Anytime you have buried tanks, there’s potential for a problem. It’s regulated by the state. As far as I know, there’s no problem with the Mobil.”

The mayor concluded, “We’re not looking to increase capacity. We’re looking at is as a back-up so we’d have an additional well if, God forbid, there’s a calamity.”

As a way of saying that development follows water, Conway said, “I always tell people: The town of New Scotland, with a population of about 10,000, is between two towns — Bethlehem and Guilderland — with populations of about 35,0000. Figure out why.”

At the same time the village board is considering the moratorium on gas stations, it is also considering a planned unit development that would allow St. Matthew’s Church to build an apartment complex next to the church on Mountainview Street and would apply as well to the other half-dozen tracts of 7.5 acres of land in the village.

Conway said of the village board members, “We’ve been asking ourselves: Is our current zoning sufficient?” When it comes to developing a first-ever comprehensive land-use plan for the village, he said, “We’re kind of on the fence about it now.”
He went on, “There’s always room for improvement. We don’t want a crazy quilt of regulations and zoning laws. We’ve had preliminary discussions on some type of comprehensive plan.”

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