Store plan draws fire

Chatham residents wary of plan for bigger store next door

CHATHAM — The Ghent Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals held a joint public hearing this week with the Village of Chatham Planning Board to receive comments on the environmental impact of the new Price Chopper store proposed for a site on Route 66. And they got an earful.

Just a week after the Hannaford supermarket chain scrapped its plan to build a new store in New Lebanon, which currently has no food market, Chatham residents questioned why the only supermarket in their community should double in size and move to a lot next door, leaving the current storefront empty.

The site for the proposed market is just over the village line in Ghent, but the September 19 meeting was held in the large second-floor courtroom of the Tracy Memorial in Chatham. Even with all the space, the meeting was standing room only, with over 150 people, including representatives from Price Chopper, the supermarket chain owned by the Golub Corp. of Schenectady.

Norman Feinstein, vice president of the Hampshire Company, which owns the plaza that currently houses the Price Chopper supermarket in the village, and his lawyers as well as an assessor and an architect hired by Hampshire also attended the meeting.

“There are a lot of people in this room,” said Ghent Planning Board Chair Jonathan Walters at the start of the meeting. “We could be here till Wednesday.” He said this was just the first of many public hearings on the proposal, and he advised concerned residents that if they did not get the chance to speak at the meeting to write to the Planning Boards.

Mr. Walters then asked the Price Chopper engineer and developers to review the project for the public. The new building will be twice the size of the current Price Chopper in the Chatham Plaza. It would occupy seven acres adjacent to the current plaza. The property for the proposed store lies between two wetlands and Price Chopper has been working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Army Corp of Engineers on ways to reduce the impact of the store. The site floods and part were recently underwater when the remnants of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee drenched the region in late August and earlier this month. Price Chopper engineer Mike Tucker said, “Nothing from this project will add to the flooding that exists today, in fact it will lessen it.”

Site plans are available at the town and village halls, and the municipalities plan to put them online as well.

The land that Price Chopper wants to build on is zoned for commercial use. The company needs to meet with the Planning Boards and the Village Board to obtain approval for water and sewer service and to request some zoning variances. The Town of Ghent is the lead agency in the state Environmental Quality Review, or SEQR, a process designed to identify and mitigate undesirable impacts on the environment before construction is allowed to begin. If the review process leads to a determination by the Planning Boards of potentially harmful impacts, the applicant would have to undertake more research aimed at eliminating the problem, said Chatham Planning Board Chairman Dan Harrick.

Speakers at the meeting questioned why Price Chopper needs a store as large as the one proposed and asked why the company couldn’t renovate the old store. Residents and business owners worried about such a large empty storefront in the Plaza, which already has a retail vacancy at its north end.

The owner of Route 66 Liquors in the Plaza said that she and other tenants had agreed to move to different spaces in the Plaza at their own expanse so that Hampshire could expand the 23,000-square-foot space that now houses Price Chopper.

Barry Herbold of Empire State Appraisal Consultants was hired by Hampshire to look at the value of vacant property. He told the boards that in Valatie, when Grand Union shut down its store at the plaza on Route 9, the assessed value of the property dropped from $11 million to $4.9 million.

He also said that the Family Dollar Store in the Chatham Plaza has a “co-tenant” clause in its lease that allows the Dollar Store to end its lease if Price Chopper moves out.

Many residents of Payne Avenue, across the street from the proposed building, talked about flooding. “Everyone’s house on the avenue might be in peril,” said resident Lenore Packet.

Other’s talked about the quaint look of Chatham and how having a new 45,000-square-foot building did not fit in with the village comprehensive plan. They also worried about having more services in the store would mean more competition for local stores. “Are they going to put out of business our village bakery?” said resident Lisa Johnson of the Price Chopper’s statement that the new store would have an expanded bakery, meat and fish departments, along with a florist in the store and a 24-hour pharmacy.

Many people spoke of how important is was, for environmental conservation, that Price Chopper not build a new store but fix the old one.

Mr. Feinstein said he was encouraged by the large turnout at the meeting, and he said he would continue to fight to keep the store in the plaza. His lawyer referred to case law supporting municipalities that have sought to limit the size of stores in their communities.

The owner of LaBella’s, which was in the plaza until recently and is now in Kinderhook, said, “The guy at DEC who is going to let them build there doesn’t live in Chatham.” He said after having a business in the Plaza for 16 years he knows that the Price Chopper is a very lucrative business in Chatham and that the company will not leave.

Rob Lagonia, who owns operates an eponymous restaurant where LaBella’s once was, said he, Danielle Palleschi, a Hudson Avenue resident, and other concerned neighbors of the Price Chopper paid for the mailings sent to village residents. The source of the mailed brochure was listed as “Concerned Citizens for Smart Growth in Chatham.” Mr. Lagonia said the Hampshire Company paid for the mailing, and Ms. Palleschi paid for the glossy fliers. Both spoke the meeting.

The Ghent Planning Board will meet again on Wednesday October 5. That board is accepting written comments about the Price Chopper environmental review until the end of September. The Chatham Planning Board meets the third Monday of the month. Its next meeting will be October 17. Announcements for joint meetings are published in this newspaper and on line at the town of Ghent website www.townofghent.org.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

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