Shaker Museum move clears first hurdle

CHATHAM–The village Planning Board voted to approve the general site plan for a new Shaker Museum and Library at 5 Austerlitz Street. The board reviewed the plan, held a public hearing on the project and went over the state environmental review at the September 16 meeting.

The Shaker Museum is in the process of purchasing the three-story brick building by the traffic roundabout at the north end of the Main Street intersection with River and Austerlitz streets. The museum needed the site plan approval from the Planning Board to move forward with the purchase.

The board approved the general site plan after closing the public hearing on the matter. But Village Attorney Ken Dow reminded the three Planning Board members present that the site plan still must be reviewed by the county Planning Board before this step of the process is finalized. Mr. Dow said they would have to vote again on the site plan after they receive comments from the county.

The museum will also have to come back to the Planning Board for final site plan review once the non-profit organization has design plans for the building, which is currently empty. The building is in the historic district of the village and a museum is an allowed use for that zoning district, according to attorneys at the meeting.

The current design includes 24 parking spaces–15 at the rear of the site and 9 on museum property along Austerlitz Street. Attorney Paul Freeman, representing the museum, said there might also be an opportunity for the museum to use the parking spaces at MetzWood Insurance across from the site on the weekends. The Wood family currently owns the building.

Plans are for the museum to be open Thursday through Monday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Shaker Museum also has a site in Old Chatham which is open year-round by appointment, and houses the administrative offices, collections, library, and archives. Since 2004 the organization has also had a site in New Lebanon, which, according to their website consists “of 11 Shaker buildings on 91 acres, and the museum’s name was changed from Shaker Museum & Library to Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon.”

At the Planning Board meeting Shaker Museum Executive Director Lacy Schutz said that local philanthropist Judy Grunberg, who died August 30, suggested the museum look at the building in Chatham about a year and half ago. Ms. Schutz said they did a lot of “exploration” on the building and after doing the research they decided, “We do think this is an appropriate move for the museum.”

When asked by the Planning Board about how many people they expected to visit the museum, Ms. Schutz said that about 30,000 people a year attend other cultural attractions like Olana in Greenport and Omi in Ghent.

One Planning Board member asked about tour buses and was told that plans do designate an area at the back of the building where buses could drop off visitors. Ms. Schultz said there will be “school buses, more likely.” The plans also show a ramp in the design to make the building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Residents who spoke during the public hearing were mostly concerned with parking. There was also some concern about the impacts from construction.

“My primary concern is parking,” said Vance Pitkin, who owns Pitkin Company Refinishers across the street from the site. “Things are pretty tight there now,” he said of finding parking for his customers and employees.

Village resident Lael Locke, a former village board member, said that section of River Street “is narrow as it is,” and she worried that “it seems like a potential disaster.”

Matt Wood, president of MetzWood Insurance, attended the meeting with his mother, Jane Wood, the owner of the building, to support the museum. He said they were excited about having a cultural institution move into the building.

“We felt it important to work with them,” he said of the Shaker Museum.

According to the application submitted to the Planning Board, “the Shaker Museum seeks to re-purpose the existing brick structure for use as a museum, administrative offices and a teaching center. There will be very few modifications of the exterior portion of the building.” The application also points out that the village code “does not expressly dictate the number of parking spaces necessary for a civic building, but rather the code provides that parking shall be provided ‘as appropriate to the circumstances.’ Here, the museum has incorporated, to the greatest extent practical, as many parking spaces as the site will permit.”

Mr. Freeman pointed out that parking would be an issue for any organization that wanted to move into the building. He said the museum would use signs and work with the Village Police on the parking issue.

Village Mayor John Howe said that the village Fire Department, Police and the Department of Public Works must now review all applications to the Planning Board and had looked at this application.

The Planning Board closed the public hearing and voted to approve the proposed site plan with the understanding that the museum would need to come back to the board to review the final designs. The board will have to vote again at a special meeting on September 23 once they receive comments from the county Planning Board.

Also at the meeting:

• The board reviewed the plans for a project on Depot Square to build a second movie screen for the Crandell Theatre, the single screen movie theater on Main Street. The building proposed is owned by Jack Shear. The board requested copies of the plan, which is also being reviewed by the county Planning Board and scheduled a special meeting Monday, September 23 at 7:30 p.m. to review the site plan

• The board also heard from applicants for a Mavis Discount Tire store at 15 Dardess Drive, in the shopping plaza next to Price Chopper. The board reviewed changes to the plan that included more tree shading and an awning. That application is also being reviewed by the county and Mavis representatives at the meeting asked that public hearing for the application be closed. Board chair Daniel Herrick said the Planning Board generally keeps public hearings open until board members receive comments from the county Planning Board

• There was a brief discussion of changing the Planning Board meeting date to the first Monday of the month to allow more time to get applications to the county Planning Board for review. Currently the county Planning Board meets the night after the village Planning Board’s regular meeting which is on third Monday of the month. That can extend the time it takes for the review of applications for local projects, with some applicants having to wait two months before the village Planning Board can reach a decision.

The next Planning Board meeting will be the special meeting Monday, September 23 at 7:30 p.m. in the Tracy Memorial/Village Hall.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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