Altamont ZBA hears Stewart’s variance requests, holds off on setting public hearing

— From Stewart’s Shops

If it gets the OK: Stewart’s Shops received the zoning change it needed from the village board last month to move forward with its proposal for its Altamont Boulevard shop. This week, the company was before the zoning board asking for three variances to make the project code-compliant so it can next go to the planning board for its input. Due to the holidays, the zoning board decided not to set a public hearing on the variance requests for its next meeting on Jan. 12.

ALTAMONT —  With its zoning change from the village board in place for the second time, Stewart’s Shops was before the Altamont Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday seeking three variances to build a new store with gas pumps at its Altamont Boulevard location.

The Altamont Board of Trustees in November voted, 4 to 1, to rezone, for the second time in less than a year, from residential to commercial the Stewart’s-owned property at 107-109 Helderberg Ave.

For Stewart’s proposed 3,340 square-foot shop to comply with village code, the company would need the zoning board to sign off on three variance requests:

— A setback variance from the adjacent property at 111 Helderberg Ave.

With a gasoline-service-station designation, the village code says the only structure on the site that can be closer than 50 feet to the adjacent residential lot is a fence. 

As proposed, the site plan filed with the village in September shows the back of the new building approximately 13 feet from the property line of the adjacent 111 Helderberg Ave. 

So, a setback variance of about 37 feet would be needed;

— An area variance for minimum allowable lot size.

The village code says that gasoline service stations are permitted only on lots of 40,000 square feet or more. In addition, the lot has to have a minimum of 150 feet of frontage on a street or highway or a minimum of 100 feet of frontage on a corner lot. 

Although 1001 Altamont Boulevard meets the village’s code requirement for lot dimensions, the parcel is only about 34,000 acres — an area variance of about 6,000 would be necessary; and

—   A setback variance from Altamont Boulevard for the new building.

In the Central Business District, according to the village code, the maximum front setback is 10 feet — think, the new shop would have to be built 10 feet from the sidewalk. 

The front setback “provided” by Stewart’s in its proposed September site plan is 99 feet, so the company would need a setback variance of about 89 feet. 

The zoning board declined to set a public hearing for the variance requests at its Jan. 12 meeting, stating, given the upcoming holiday season, there could be a potential problem with properly notifying the public and affected neighbors about the hearing. 

“Maybe we’d be better off getting a hold of you after we’ve talked about this some more — I don’t think we should set a date right now,” zoning board Chairman Maurice McCormick said to Chuck Marshall, the Stewart’s real-estate representative presenting the company’s proposal to the board. “Only because you have Christmas coming up, you have New Year’s coming up — it may very well end up being next month.”

Marshall told The Enterprise on Wednesday that, even without a set date for the public hearing, he will submit to the village by Dec. 27, all of the information and materials requested of him by the zoning board. 

Recent history

The village board first approved the rezone of 107-109 Helderberg Ave. in December 2018. Marshall then met in January with the village planning board, which expressed its concern with the size — at the time, 3,719 square feet — and siting of the new building. Then, at the zoning board’s April meeting, Marshall sought six variances for a proposal considered to be a convenience store — a code designation that would have made for an easier project.

By May, Carol Rothenberg, who lives at 111 Helderberg Ave. and whose property line would be just 13 feet from the rear of a new building, had filed an appeal, challenging the decision made by village Building Inspector Lance Moore that the proposed Stewart’s project should be classified as a convenience store rather than a gasoline service station.

After dispatching with accusations from Stewart’s of board bias, the zoning board voted unanimously at a follow-up May meeting to overturn Moore’s interpretation. 

Seeking variances

At the Dec. 10 zoning-board meeting, Marshall said the change in the project’s designation from convenience store to a gasoline service station negated the need for some of the variances the company was seeking in May. 

When seeking variances, Marshall previously told The Enterprise, the fewer the better — each request has to pass five criteria used by the zoning board when considering granting a variance: 

— Whether the variance request would create an undesirable change in neighborhood character or cause detriment to nearby properties;

— Whether there are ways for an applicant to achieve the same level of benefit without having to seek an area variance;

— Whether the requested variance is substantial;

— Whether the proposed variance would adversely affect a neighborhood or district’s physical or environmental conditions; and

— Whether “the alleged difficulty was self-created, which consideration shall be relevant to the decision of the Zoning Board of Appeals, but not necessarily preclude the granting of the area variance.”

Although, after Marshall had made his case to the board in April for why six variances were needed for that convenience-store based proposal, McCormick said at the time, “I don’t really see a problem with it, but I’m just polling the board here if anyone has a problem with it. But it looks kind of practical.”


After Marshall finished his presentation on Dec. 10, he began fielding questions about possible alternative site plans and configurations.

Marshall was asked by McCormick if he thought what he was presenting was the most beneficial site layout for 111 Helderberg Ave., Carol Rothenberg’s adjacent property, to which Marshall responded, “I personally do, yes.”

In nearly every other possible iteration or configuration of the site, Marshall said, the gas canopy would be have to be placed closer to 111 Helderberg Ave. than is allowed by village code — “no fuel pump shall be located closer than 20 feet to any side lot.”

Board member Kathryn Provencher then asked a question that many village residents have put forward: Why not put the new shop the existing building footprint?

Parking, Marshall responded. 

 With the current store, he said, the parking spaces are arrayed around the building; specifically, the spots at the front entrance and along Altamont Boulevard which are closest to the gas canopy, in some places, are just nine feet away from the pumps.

Drivers backing out of those spaces, Marshall said, “are effectively backing into someone at the pump.” Marshall said the company tries to maintain a distance of 30 feet from the rear of parking spaces to the gas canopy so someone can safely back out of a spot.

The site as presented in the September filing with the village has 30 feet of distance from the back of parking to the gas canopy. Presumably, dropping a new store on the site of the current shop would only maintain the site’s current parking limitations.

Marshall also said the company no longer installs pumps “in series,” which is the current layout of the fuel pumps at the Altamont store, where, if a driver were towing, say, a trailer with landscaping equipment, he or she would end up occupying two of four pumps

The Altamont Boulevard shop’s “in series” pump configuration can cause drivers to try to drive around to the opposite side of the fueling canopy, Marshall said, and with the current site layout, there really isn’t enough room to do that.

Moving the pumps into a “parallel configuration,” he said, “designates a bay while simultaneously providing circulation around the whole canopy.”

Marshall said Stewart’s proposal keeps all of the commercial activity between the front of the store and the street in addition to providing more space in which the activity could occur. 

With the current store, there is action happening on all four sides of the building — with parking on three sides and a driveway along lotline with 107-109 Helderberg Ave. 

The current 2,700-square-foot shop has 24 parking spots, Marshall said, while the new 3,340 square-foot store would have 26 spaces — a number that includes the four fueling spots where people would “park” to gas up.

For comparison, Marshall offered the board other local examples of Stewart’s shops’ square footage and parking availability: In Schenectady, the company’s newest shop has 29 parking spaces and is 3,675 square feet; its Mill Hill Court store on Route 155 in Guilderland has 33 parking spaces and is 2,834 square feet; and, in the village of Schoharie, the Stewart’s store is 3,000 square feet with 24 parking spots. 

Marshall was also asked the other question on the tips of residents tongues: How does Stewart’s proposed project “fit in” with Altamont, why should consideration be given to tearing down a squat, rust-colored relic built during the Carter Administration?

The planned exterior, Marshall said, “is somewhat, one of a kind,” with the shop’s porch/overhang extended the length of the building to match that of Altamont Corners on the other side of Altamont Boulevard. Other desired Altamont-centric architectural details could be addressed by the planning board, which claims aegis over the esthetics of proposed projects in the village.

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