Gaines expects public hearing for Dollar General store in next 2 months

Photo by Tom Rivers: Members of the Gaines Zoning Board of Appeals met Monday in the Albion High School cafeteria. The ZBA will hold its meetings there the next 2-3 months due to anticipated larger crowds because of a possible new Dollar General store on Ridge Road, across from a cobblestone school that is a National Historic Landmark. The board members include from left: Gerard Morrisey, Ray Burke, Chairman Michael Grabowski, David Thom and Curt Strickland.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 11 September 2018 at 8:18 am

GAINES – The Town of Gaines is expecting to soon receive a site plan for a new Dollar General on Ridge Road, a project that is opposed by the Cobblestone Museum which owns a cobblestone school from 1849 that is across the road from the site eyed for the store.

The developer for the project, the Zaremba Group, is working on the site plan, attempting to include suggestions from a state agency that has concerns about a new store in a nationally recognized historic district.

The NYS Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation last month sent a letter to Michael Grabowski, chairman of the Gaines Zoning Board of Appeals. The state would prefer Dollar General find an alternative location for the store.

“It is our opinion that the construction of a generic retail building at this location will significantly alter the District 5 Schoolhouse’s visual environment and setting,” Sloane Bullough, Historic Sites Restoration Coordinator for the NYS Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, wrote on Aug. 9. “The introduction of a modern generic commercial store with its associated 45 space parking and service areas will greatly impact the historic character of the National Landmark school as well as the two other nearby Landmarked cobblestone buildings.”

Zaremba isn’t looking elsewhere in Gaines for the new Dollar General. Instead, the developer will try to redesign the site to reduce the impact. Grabowski, the ZBA chairman, said Dollar General is considering suggestions from the state agency.

In her letter, Bullough said if no alternative site is found, the site across from the schoolhouse should be redesigned to have less of a visual impact. That could include having the parking lot on the side of the building instead of in front with the number of parking spaces pared down to the minimum.

State Parks would also like to see “a strong vegetative buffer be planted to visually screen the parking lot and building from the road.” The buffer could include mixture of deciduous and coniferous indigenous trees and shrubs. The trees should be planted in a staggered pattern and not in rows, she said.

“We understand that the developer and the Town of Gaines have already negotiated a low-lying sign, which is a good beginning for minimizing impact to the historic school and adjacent properties,” Bullough said.

Grabowski said he expects the ZBA will have a public hearing on the site plan in about two months. The ZBA has moved its meetings to the Albion High School cafeteria while the project is under review to accommodate larger crowds. There were about a dozen supporters of the Cobblestone Museum at the meeting on Monday. (The Gaines Town Board was also meeting on Monday and had its session at the Town Hall. The ZBA usually meets the first Monday of the month, but this month’s meeting was moved back a week due to Labor Day.)

Grabowski declined to let the Cobblestone Museum  speak about the project at the meeting Monday because the chairman said public comments will only be accepted at the public hearing. It’s the board’s policy to not allow comments on a project until a public hearing, he said.

After the meeting Doug Farley, the museum director, said the museum and its supporters welcome the opportunity to speak against the project.

Several hundred people have already signed a petition against the Dollar General in the historic district, saying the store “will mar the character and ambiance” of the Cobblestone Museum’s historic buildings on Ridge Road and also just south of Route 104 on Route 98.

The ZBA also passed a resolution to amend its by-laws insisting that all communications for projects go through the Town Hall. Grabowski said members have been called at their work places and at their homes, with other messages through their personal email.

If residents want to contact members about projects, they need to go through the Town Hall, the board voted in a majority. One member, Gerard Morrisey, opposed the issue, saying board members and the public shouldn’t be limited to the town offices.

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