WARRENSBURG - For many weeks, the issue of whether Stewart's should be allowed to construct a new convenience store with four gas pumps on Stewart Farrar Ave. has been debated at length in diners and in local residents' dining rooms.
The opinions - of whether the relocation is an encroachment into an historic residential district and poses pedestrian safety hazards, or it's merely a progressive change - have been aired for months before government panels and amongst neighbors.
Next Tuesday at 7 p.m., the issue will go before the Warrensburg Town Planning Board, and it's not unlikely that the issue will be settled one way or another. Their decision may result in the uptown neighborhood's character changing permanently.
Stewart's Shops plans to build the 2,568-square-feet convenience store - about the size of its existing one on lower Main St. - in the middle of the plot that extends from Main to Elm Streets off Stewart Farrar Ave. The store's fuel island would be positioned diagonally near the Main and Stewart Farrar intersection. A total of 32 parking spaces would surround the store and the former Hudson Headwaters Health Network administration building, which will be retained to host offices for another enterprise.
Stewart's site plan was submitted to the board last week. Its present version depicts a boxy store with merely a few straightforward columns as architectural details, differing from the earlier proposals in front of the town board. Stewart's representatives said earlier this year the store would resemble the Adirondack-style store that was built about a year ago in Lake George, but the new plans don't reflect that.
This week, members of the Warrensburg Historical Society met with interested citizens and legal counsel to see how they could halt the use of the plot for a convenience store.
A substantial number of residents have aligned against the store relocation, citing that the move would mean a commercial operation in a historic district, as well as causing traffic, safety, litter and noise problems in a primarily residential neighborhood.
They privately have expressed frustrations that at a prior planning board meeting, they were told not to speak, and at recent town board meetings - with the exception of one hearing - they were also quieted and told to take their concerns to the planning board.
Town officials Tuesday said that they've heard the planning board was going to ban public comment at the Tuesday meeting, but they urged them not to. Attempts to reach the planning board chairman Tuesday weren't successful.
The town board made a controversial decision about two months ago approving a zoning change of a segment of the lot facing Elm Street, from Professional Multi-family to Hamlet Commercial, to allow stores.
Opponents of the relocation said the convenience store would be more compatible in Stewart's present location downtown, which is fully commercial, rather than encroaching into an historic district that includes homes on the National Register of Historic Places, and Richards Library, a stone structure steeped in history.
Neighboring Bed and Breakfast enterprise owners and historical society members have expressed anger over the Stewart Farrar location, citing traffic problems, reduced property values, and safety of school children who regularly walk to school nearby.
Town board members have cited their fears that if denied their favored Stewart Farrar site, Stewart's might relocate their store on state Rte. 9 at the entrance of the hamlet, just over the town line. Such a short move south, they say, will mean Stewart's property taxes will be paid not to the town of Warrensburg, but to the town of Lake George.