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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 8, 2009

Sphere still here, waiting

By Saranac Hale Spencer

NEW SCOTLAND — Sphere Development is still very interested in building a Target-anchored shopping center in New Scotland.

Almost two years ago, the Cazenovia-based firm began discussions with the town regarding a retail development planned for the old Bender melon farm, at the intersection of routes 85 and 85A.  When the plans were met with strong opposition from residents, the town board passed a moratorium on large-scale commercial development, so Sphere was not able to submit a formal proposal for the project.

Since then, controversy over the shape of future development has dominated discussion in town and it has become the defining issue in the upcoming election for supervisor and two town board seats.

Last month, The Spotlight newspaper reported that Sphere was shifting its focus away from New Scotland and The Times Union ran an editorial congratulating the town on avoiding a big-box development.  Fox 23 news followed suit with a report that citizens’ voices of opposition “have been heard.”

“The papers kind of made a big deal out of it, but it really was no change in the position we’ve taken for quite some time,” said Gregory Widrick, a managing partner at Sphere.  For months the company has been saying that its plans for the site are dependent on the outcome of zoning law updates that have been underway in New Scotland since the moratorium was first instituted.  “Who knows when that will be,” Widrick said of the zoning updates, “so we’re just passively waiting.”

Asked if Sphere is supporting any candidates in this year’s election, Widrick said, “I absolutely would support ones that don’t oppose our development.” 

He named Roselyn Robinson for town board and Michael Fields for supervisor.  The pair are running together on the Republican line on a platform that opposes a limit on the allowable size of retail buildings.  Those “who don’t support the size cap is who we would support,” Widrick said.

The company hasn’t made any campaign contributions in New Scotland so far, according to the State Board of Elections, but it has contributed over $1,000 to candidates in the town of Manlius, where it plans to build an 86,000-square-foot shopping center with a Price Chopper grocery store.

Sphere’s initial proposal for the 179-acre property in New Scotland was for a 750,000-square-foot shopping center with a 137,000-square-foot Target store.

“Nothing is going to have changed versus what we’ve shown,” Widrick said when asked if the company’s plans for the project had changed.  “Now, theoretically, we said we would reduce the size and everything, but we haven’t drawn up any new plans.  We’re just not going to spend any resources on that until we know for sure that we could build something out there.”

A year ago, the company said it would scale back the development’s total square-footage by half, but maintained that the 137,000-square-foot Target was necessary to make the project viable.

Sphere is awaiting the outcome of the election, Widrick said this week, concluding, “It all depends on what happens in New Scotland with the entitlements.”

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