Stewart’s expansion bid fails

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

After the 2-to-2 vote, warm hugs were exchanged between residents who had worked to rally the community against the proposal to expand the Stewart's Shops footprint at the corner of Main Street and Route 156 and tear down a nearby home.          

ALTAMONT — After months of packed village meetings as Stewart’s proposed an expansion that would have required a zoning change, its bid failed Tuesday night with a tied village board vote, 2 to 2.

A zoning change requires a majority vote.

Village trustee Cathy Glass had resigned on Oct. 1 for personal reasons, the mayor said. Glass had already announced that she would recuse herself from any vote on the Stewart’s zoning change request, because she had formerly served on the planning board.

On Tuesday, Mayor James Gaughan and Trustee Kerry Dineen voted for the zoning change while trustees Christine Marshall and Dean Whalen voted against it.

Whalen said that, as a planner and architect, he could see good reasons why it was impossible for Stewart’s to make any real improvements within the current footprint, but that, as a member of a democracy, he needed “to hear the majority,” and he voted against the change.

Marshall said that she could see merit on both sides of the issue, but said that she was “more persuaded” by the arguments that it’s too big a footprint, and that it encroaches on a neighborhood, and that a zoning change would obviously directly affect several families.

The zoning change would have made the duplex at 107-109, now residential, into a commercial space. Stewart’s planned to tear down the house, which is currently occupied by two families.

Dineen said that her role as a trustee on the village board was not to settle the minutiae of the design of a building — that was the role of the planning board. She said that she believed the board should use the State Environmental Quality Review as its guide.

Earlier at Tuesday’s meeting, the board had issued a negative declaration on the SEQR review.

Since the board had already determined that the zoning change would bring no significant environmental impact, including any negative impact on the character of the village, Dineen said, it should then allow the change to go through. She added that the building in question was “not a historic house,” and that it had been zoned business “up until the last six years.” She noted that the board had in recent years agreed to several other similar zoning change requests in the village.

Gaughan then expressed disappointment with Stewart’s refusal to change key elements in its design that could have satisfied residents’ concerns more fully by making the overall structure less “monolithic.” He said, “I’m left with, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t” before voting for the change.

After speaking, the mayor noted that the vote stood 2-2, and asked village attorney to explain what that meant. Jason L. Shaw said that failure to obtain a majority vote meant that there would be “no action.”

The room was quiet and people looked puzzled as Gaughan immediately moved on to the next item on the agenda.

Then whispers began, and people began to figure out that the Stewart’s proposal had been turned down. Still, no one was entirely sure until the meeting ended a few minutes later and they asked for clarification. At that point, there were warm hugs between residents who had worked to rally the community against the proposal.          


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