Stewart’s buys house next to Altamont store

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

The current Stewart's store in Altamont is adjacent to a two-family house at 107-109 Helderberg Ave.

ALTAMONT — Last fall, after months of listening to citizens’ objections on a zoning change that would allow the Stewart’s Shop in Altamont to expand, the board defeated the change in a 2-to-2 vote.

On Tuesday, the board heard that Stewart’s has purchased the property adjacent to its store at 1001 Altamont Blvd. — a two-family house at 107-109 Helderberg Ave., the very property that would have to be rezoned from residential to business for the expansion.

“They have to wait one year to re-apply,” said Glenn Hebert, the village’s building inspector and zoning administrator. “They have purchased the property and are in the midst of filing paperwork to demolish that property, which they are entitled to do.”

However on Wednesday, Chuck Marshall, who works in real-estate development for Stewart’s, told The Enterprise that, while the plan a year ago included demolishing the two-family house, the current plans submitted to the village are for an upgrade to the existing Stewart’s building, not to demolish the house next door.

“We indicated to the tenants that they have time before we proceed,” said Marshall. Asked about a timeline, he said there was none.

The property had been owned by Peter Baumann who said last year that he had bought it with the intention of selling it to Stewart’s; he was unhappy that the village had adopted zoning changes that put the house in a residential zone. Baumann rented the house to two families.

Pressed at Tuesday’s meeting by Carol Rothenberg, who lives at 111 Helderberg Ave., Mayor James Gaughan said that last April he met with Stewart’s at the company’s request. Gary Dake, president of the privately held company, and Chuck Marshall met with Gaughan and Altamont Trustee Nicholas Fahrenkopf to discuss “the future of Stewart’s in Altamont,” Gaughan said.

Gaughan said he reported to the board, and the response to Stewart’s was, “You have the right to come back. I would recommend you change your narrative.” Gaughan said that Stewart’s left the impression “they were doing nothing.” The mayor said he learned about the sale of 107-109 Helderberg Ave. last week.

“My feedback was it would be insulting to the community to bring back the same proposal,” said Fahrenkopf of the April meeting. “They said they’d try again in 20 years.”

Last October, Gaughan and Trustee Kerry Dineen voted for the zoning change. Cathy Glass had just resigned as trustee and so did not vote. Trustees Dean Whalen and Christine Marshall voted against the zoning change that would have allowed Stewart’s expansion. Marshall died in April.

After the vote, Fahrenkopf was appointed to the board to replace Glass, and just this month Madeline LaMountain assumed a seat at the board table, filling the vacancy left by Marshall’s death.

The Albany County assessment roll lists the two-family Helderberg Avenue home at a full-market value of $136,364.

Gaughan told The Enterprise on Wednesday his philosophy on dealing with any plans Stewart’s may have for expansion, “If they do proceed, my goal all along was not to prevent the upgrading of their facility. I think there is room for compromise to meet the needs that were expressed.”

Chuck Marshall told The Enterprise Wednesday that the company believes the location it has is the best in the village. He said, while there will be minor upgrades to the current building, no large changes are immediately planned.

“When property changes hands the ability to do something can change,” Marshall said, stating that Stewart’s had a “reasonable financial arrangement” with Baumann. “We were able to buy it and control it; that provides some stability,” Marshall said. “We’re a long-term thinking company.”

Marshall said of 2015, “That was the longest year of my life. It took them about a year to say no.”

Water woes

Sharon Preston told the board she and her neighbors on Van Evera Drive have problems with dirty water. “We had black spewing out…pure black; it ruined my load of laundry,” she said.

She and her husband, Robert, moved to 3 Van Evera Drive five years ago and, from the moment she used the water, she felt it had problems, she said.  Preston said, when she takes a shower and washes her hair, she feels like there’s something in her hair.

She has been buying bottled water and has neighbors with filtration systems, Preston said.

She cares for her grandchildren in her home and said, “My concern is how healthy the water is.” Preston also asked, “What would cause this?”

Jeffrey Moller, the superintendent of public works, said that, a month and a half ago, there were equipment problems at the well site on Brandle Road. He told The Enterprise that a chlorinator broke.

The Brandle Road site was closed for three-and-a-half weeks; water instead came from Gun Club Road. With water traveling in two different directions, sediment came loose, Moller said.

“It’s not through the village; it’s just that one area,” he said. Van Evera is off of Brandle road.

“The water is safe,” Moller said. “It’s just the discoloration.”

He said the system could be flushed more often — four or six times annually instead of the usual two times.

Gaughan recalled how a group of neighbors came to the board five years ago with a sample of the discolored water. “We went and tested every day…The results were it was not unsafe,” he said.

Dineen said the village could talk to its engineers if the increased flushing didn’t solve the problem.

“Work actively with Jeff,” Gaughan urged the Prestons. “Torture him as much as you can,” he quipped.

Other business

In other business, the board:

—   Heard from LaMountain that Altamont will hold its first fall festival. The event will be centered in Orsini Park and will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

LaMountain, who organized the event, described it as “a celebration of Altamont.” She said the festival will feature “family-friendly activities” and will be “a lot of fun.”

The mayor said 26 vendors fit in the park. “She’s already bursting at the seams,” he said of LaMountain’s lining up vendors;

— Heard from Moller that the sidewalk project, building a concrete walkway along Altamont Boulevard, is finished for the year but will resume next year.

A culvert failed on Helderberg Avenue, Moller said. That will be repaired along with a culvert on Severson before blacktopping, he said. Then his staff will work on drainage problems on Prospect.

— Heard from Marijo Dougherty that an exhibit on the Altamont Free Library, celebrating its centennial this year, will open Sept 25, with a reception in the village hall from 2 to 4 p.m. The exhibit will run through Dec. 16;

—   Held a public hearing during which no member of the public spoke, and then agreed to spend up to $57,000 from a reserve fund to buy a 2016 Ford rack-body truck with a plow and accessories as recommended by Moller.

Moller said the village is in negotiations with the town of Guilderland over its old truck, which Guilderland may buy or may pay for with traded services;

—   Agreed to apply to the Hudson River Valley Greenway for a grant to support a “Museum in the Streets” project. The board also declared a negative declaration for the State Environmental Quality Review Act, meaning the “Museum in the Streets” project will not have a big environmental impact.

By unanimous vote, the board agreed to pay $20,160 for panels for the street museum. The panels will describe the history of various village buildings.

“This is from fundraising and grants, not tax money,” noted Fahrenkopf.

Gaughan said the total cost for the museum project is $36,000 with $8,000 of that being “in-kind” contributions. He also noted that Assemblywoman Pat Fahy had secured $8,000 in state funds for the project.

“We have to order steel posts,” said Gaughan. “Our staff will fashion them with lecterns.”

The target date for completing the project is next year’s strawberry festival, said Gaughan;

—   Approved a bid from MCJ construction for $94,000 to repair a culvert on Brandle Road. The culvert runs under a service road leading to the village’s well site.

Senator George Amedore secured $50,000 in state funds for the project, said Gaughan. Roughly another $24,000 will come from CHIPs (Consolidated Highway Improvement Program) money, said Moller, referring to state funds for highway and local street repairs.

That leaves the village with $24,000 to contribute, from its general fund. “That’s what the reserves are for,” said Whalen.

Moller told The Enterprise that the $94,000 will repair an old metal culvert that is six feet high, eight feet wide, and 40 feet long. “It’s started to rot away,” he said, “It’s lost its integrity.”

A new sleeve will be placed inside the culvert and it will be “pumped full of grout,” said Moller;

— Heard from Sue Dague, of 109 Main St., her concerns about a neighbor who has outdoor fires in a “U-shaped structure eight cinderblocks high.” She described one fire with “sparks flying everywhere,” and said, “A large ball of fire leapt over the structure and landed on the grass.”

The burn ban imposed in early spring by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation was lifted May 15, said Hebert. “After that, we consider it recreational burning. If you think it’s bigger than it should be, call the fire department,” he said. “They’ll put it out.”

“If you feel your house is in danger, don’t wait until our next meeting,” said Fahrenkopf;

— Heard from Dague that it is “extremely inconvenient” that the Key Bank in Altamont closes its automated teller machine at 7 p.m. Hebert responded, “I received a complaint eight months ago; lights were shining on a neighbor’s property, which is illegal.” He told the bank the lights needed to be lowered. “They said they would and they did,” said Hebert.

Hebert also said, “Closing down the ATM has nothing to do with the ordinance.” Whalen said, at the time the ATM was installed, there was a stipulation in the agreement to limit the hours. Gaughan suggested she talk to bank officials about her concerns;

— Approved a request for water for a single-family home on Dunnsville Road. The charge for the new service connection is $2,500;

— Increased Nicholas Sala’s salary by $1,000 because he received his water system operator license;

—Approved a request from the ladies’ auxiliary of the fire department for a barbecue fundraiser on Sept. 9;

— Approved the fire department’s participation in a 9/11 memorial service on Sept. 11, an open house and family dinner on Oct. 14; a Halloween parade on Oct. 31; a comedy night on Nov. 5; and a Santa Stroll on Dec. 18; and

—   Approved Altamont Fire Chief Paul Miller attending the Albany County Volunteer Firemen’s Association Inspection Day on Oct. 9 at the Fort Hunter Fire Department.

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