Occupy the Planning Board

Photo illustration by Will Dendis

Last week, an architect came to the Planning Board to present a plan for a 6,000-square-foot commercial building in the Big Lots Plaza; a fairly standard request. He probably wasn’t expecting to hear from Occupy Saugerties.

Several members of the group, formed in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement but dedicated to local issues, were there Jan. 17 to express their desire for a low-key building that would house unobtrusive businesses and a small “Peace Park” on the site of a former Getty gas station adjacent to the Big Lots Plaza on Route 212, formerly the Grand Union Plaza.

Board Chairman Howard Post said the Planning Board cannot mandate something like the park the group wants, and suggested the group speak with the property owner.

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The park, as envisioned by Occupy Saugerties, would contain chrysanthemums, benches and small signs with inspirational sayings, suggested Steve Smith. Group members are concerned the new building would house national or chain stores, like Verizon or Starbucks. “I would hate to see people getting off the Thruway and what they see representing Saugerties is a big business,” said Smith. “Saugerties has more to its character and its charm than big business.”

Property owner Michael Piazza’s architect, Paul Jankovitz, said no tenants have been signed yet. Piazza is talking to Verizon, but that’s not a definite.

There’s a traffic light near where the entrance to the site would be, helping to control traffic at the site, Jankovitz pointed out. The site plan shows extensive landscaping, which Jankovitz said would consist of deciduous and evergreen trees. The new plaza would use the existing curb cuts for entry and exit. The plan shows the driveway on the western side of the site as an exit limited to right turns only.

Questions from the two Occupy Saugerties members focused mainly on the type of businesses that would occupy the proposed building, potential increases in traffic on the heavily travelled road, and the possibility of residual contamination from the former gas station.

Smith said the developer should consider how the impact of his selection of tenants affects business in the village. “We don’t need a Starbucks in there when we already have three coffee shops, or a Barnes and Noble when we have the Inquiring Mind,” he said.

Later, the subject of contaminated land came up.

“The site was once home to Getty, and there was extensive pollution found,” Smith said. “The gas tanks were removed, and Getty removed large amounts of polluted soil, but that doesn’t mean all the soil.”

“DEC oversees that,” replied planner Bill Creen.

Occupy Saugerties member Brittany Bollenbach questioned the need for another commercial building in Saugerties. Noting that the Blockbuster store in the adjacent plaza had recently closed, she suggested Verizon could consider using that store front. Bollenbach said she is also concerned that initial tenants could move on, leaving empty storefronts. “Some shops don’t last very long in Saugerties; there have been a lot of stores that come and go in the past couple of years. How can we be sure that the building and Verizon will outlast the tree growth?”

“The owner will have a mortgage on the property, and will naturally want to keep it rented,” Jankovitz said. “It has good exposure and should attract quality tenants at that location. We should be able to maintain good tenants because of the location.”

Bollenbach also asked about possible contaminated soil remaining on the property, suggesting that the DEC’s approval of the cleanup may not be meaningful. “The DEC also wants to allow fracking in New York State,” she said. Jankovitz said the process was overseen by licensed engineers, who signed off on it.

Following the public portion of the hearing, the board discussed some of the technical details, such as drainage, lighting and the style of the masonry building. Planner Carole Furman suggested that the appearance of the back of the building could be made more attractive, as the parking lot is anticipated to connect to the parking lot of the Big Lots plaza. The blank wall now shown in the plans would reduce the attraction of the building to shoppers in the plaza, she said. Jankovitz agreed that this would be done. However, Piazza said, the owners of the adjacent center have not yet agreed to this connection.

Finally, Furman said, she is glad to see that this bare site would be developed, and said she hopes the new businesses would enliven the site as well.

While the Planning Board cannot mandate the amenities the occupy group suggested, Planning Board member Paul Andreassen suggested that the people asking for a small park with seating could approach the owner to see what he might agree to, and that they also approach the existing businesses with the idea, “but the board can’t mandate that, the board can’t require them to do any of that.”

There are 2 comments

  1. gberke

    It is most excellent that the citizens of Saugerties be closely involved with the business community and offer their own insights. Business should be aware of how beneficial it is to have the affection of the citizens in commerce. And citizens mut be aware that there are limits to what business can do. Where the views are not reconcilable, citizens can come together with their own business development plan. In all cases, success depends on a successful business model.
    The discussion ought always to be joined assuming all parties are acting in good faith and mutual respect. Mr Piazza’s work in Kingston (eg, The Pajama Factory) has been a well done, hands on operation. It has found very good use for urban space and has been successful for business, tenant and city.

  2. Shelley Davis

    I was just informed (and tell me it isn’t true – please) that the next town board meeting is going to be held in secret! Is this the way we want our government to run? What happened to transparency? What is so secretive that the citizens of Saugerties should not be privy to it? Does this secrecy not bother every citizen of Sauterties, no matter their political leaning? The board will have to recognize that people are getting more and more involved in how our government is being run, and yes, even on the local level. The board will have to recognize that Occupy Saugerties is a growing fact in our town and we wantm no we demand, transparency and the right to participate in our government, by the people and for the people. As Mr Berke writes: “It is most excellent that the citizens of Saugerties be closely involved…..” The only way for this to happen is transparency. Otherwise we have a BIG problem in our local government.

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