EDITORIAL: It’s not nice to sue your neighbor

DO WE REALLY NEED another big supermarket in this county? If that’s the question about the proposal for a new Price Chopper store in Chatham, then my answer is: How would I know?

As the male stereotype of my generation, I’m seldom trusted to do grocery shopping, and though I am encouraged to contribute to the shopping list, I get little sympathy when I inquire about what’s not in the refrigerator (especially when what I want is on the shelf below the one I’m looking at). I can’t blame any of this on a lack of supermarket space.

The Village of Chatham has threatened to sue the Town of Ghent over how Ghent has handled the new supermarket proposal. And if the village sues, the one certain outcome is a big transfer a taxpayer money from both municipalities into the bank accounts of the lawyers involved. At a time of unparalleled financial pressure on local governments, when inter-municipal agreements are seen as a way of cutting the cost of local government, what’s to be gained by Chatham and Ghent duking it out in court?

The story so far is that Price Chopper wants a store twice as large as the one it currently operates in the shopping plaza facing Route 66. The owner of the plaza says it will expand the plaza and possibly usher out some of the smaller tenants to meet Price Chopper’s needs. But the supermarket chain, owned by the Golub Corporation in Schenectady, doesn’t show much affection for the plaza owner and says it needs a different configuration for its store, one that would fit on a pie-shaped property adjacent to the existing plaza.

Most of the property where Price Chopper plans to move lies in the Town of Ghent, but a small part is in the Village of Chatham. (Half of the village is in Ghent, the other half in Chatham… but forget about that, because this story is already too complicated.) Price Chopper has pursued its plan to move for a couple of years, and it only seemed logical that the Ghent Planning Board would become what the state calls the “lead agency” in reviewing the environmental impact of the proposed supermarket.

The prospect that the strapped village would lose tax revenues if the market leaves and the thought of another empty storefront in the community has led to some odd maneuvers by village officials culminating with the threat to sue Ghent. The village wants the Ghent Planning Board to reverse its ruling that the market would have no adverse impact on the environment. That no-impact decision clears a big hurdle for Price Chopper’s plan, unless Chatham is successful in sending the whole project back to the drawing board.

Government has no business telling Price Chopper whether it needs a new market. Golub is a smart company and, yes, we sell newspapers there. But government, whether town, village or state, does have an interest in protecting its citizens from problems likely to arise in the future. One such potential problem is flooding, and while the company has offered assurances that nearby state Route 66 will not be subjected to flooding, a more comprehensive approach to mitigating flood damage seems only prudent, since more severe storms are likely in our future.

The other big issue is traffic. Right now the plan calls for vehicles drive a few hundred feet on Route 66, a busy highway, as they pass between the plaza and the new supermarket. Not requiring easy, off-highway access between the adjacent commercial sites courts disaster. Supposedly the state DOT has promised to improve the turning options on the highway. But this is the same agency that, after years of planning and millions spent in the village, couldn’t design a new railroad crossing. That’s not reassuring.

Ghent Planning Board members want to get on with this project. That’s understandable. Chatham village leaders and some residents don’t want the market to pull up stakes and move next door. That too is a natural response.

The issue here is whether these two municipal neighbors can arrive at an agreement that shields the residents of both from the impacts of intense development while recognizing that businesses do have the right to expand and change if they follow the rules already in place. A court might resolve the details of this impasse, but only compromise and cooperation will lead to a practical solution. Don’t sue. Talk.

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