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Gaines waiting to see if Dollar General can satisfy state preservation office

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 March 2019 at 10:05 am

Cobblestone Museum turns down money from developer for store across from National Historic Landmark

The Zaremba Group has proposed this design for a new Dollar General on Ridge Road, east of Route 98.

GAINES – Town of Gaines officials say a developer is still working to build a Dollar General store on Ridge Road, but hasn’t been able to satisfy the State Historic Preservation Office, which has urged the developer to find an alternative location for the store.

“It’s not a dead issue,” said Gerard Morrisey, chairman of the Gaines Zoning Board of Appeals. “Things are still active as far as I know.”

The Zaremba Group, the developer for the project, wants to put the new store across from the cobblestone schoolhouse, which was built in 1849. The schoolhouse is one of three cobblestone buildings that are a National Historic Landmark, the only historic site with that distinction in Orleans County.

SHPO told the developer if it’s determined to build on that site, it needs to try to mitigate the impact, with trees as a buffer and moving most of the parking to the side of the building and not the front. SHPO also said Zaremba should offer money to help compensate for its impact on the Cobblestone Historic District.

Photo by Tom Rivers: Gerard Morrisey, ZBA chairman, says an initial public notice about the project was vague and may have given the impression no one opposed the Dollar General.

Zaremba offered $25,000 to the Cobblestone Museum, and that was rejected by the museum’s board of directors last week. Jon Hinman, an engineer and project manager with the MRB Group, shared that news with the Gaines ZBA during the board’s meeting on Monday.

MRB is reviewing the engineering and site design for the project. The town hired MRB, and those fees are being covered by Zaremba.

Hinman said he hasn’t seen any updated plans for the project in several months because Zaremba is trying to satisfy SHPO. If Zaremba can get the OK from the state agency, that could stop the project, Hinman said.

Zaremba could find another organization to give funding to, Hinman said, to meet that requirement from SHPO. Zaremba could reach out to the town, a local library or historical society to donate the money, Hinman said, or the developer could increase the amount and see if it is acceptable to the museum.

Hinman also said Zaremba could look move the proposed store away from the cobblestone schoolhouse.

About 1,200 people backed petitions from the Cobblestone Museum urging Dollar General find another location for the store, outside of the historic district.

Morrisey said ZBA chairman shared other news during Monday’s meeting. The ZBA met with a Zaremba official about the project on Dec. 4, 2017. The minutes from that meeting have been sought by community members for much of last year, but the minutes only recently were made available.

Morrisey said waiting more than a year for a record of that meeting is unacceptable. He also questioned the vagueness of a notice about a public hearing at that meeting. The notice listed the tax map of the parcel and Zaremba as applicant, but didn’t say which road the parcel was on, the address or owner of the property.

The notice for the Dec. 4, 2017 meeting stated the purpose of the public hearing was to “receive public comment regarding an interpretation application regarding a definition for a proposed retail establishment which was submitted by Mary Ann Wervey of the Zaremba Group.”

That meeting is considered a milestone for the project because the ZBA gave the developer an indication a 9,100-square-foot store would be allowed in the historic district. The regulations for the historic district don’t allow new construction larger than 5,000 square feet. A general store also isn’t listed as a permitted use in the district, but a convenience store is allowed. Opponents to the project say the Dollar General should be considered a general store and not a convenience store.

The town’s regulations for projects in the historic district also state:

  1. The proposed building or use is consistent with the architectural and historical significance of the area as a whole.
  2. The proposed building or use does not encroach upon, diminish or otherwise adversely impact upon the other structures or uses within the district.

The ZBA may have felt there wasn’t any opposition in the community for the project based on that hearing on Dec. 4, 2017. There weren’t any public comments about the project at the hearing.

But Morrisey said the notice should have clearly stated what was being asked so the public could voice its opinion.

“Few people know tax numbers,” Morrisey, a former town assessor, said about the way the property was listed in the notice. “It’s not a great way to identify the properties to let people know what is going on.”

ZBA board members Curt Strickland and David Thom said the ZBA was hindered for much of last year because it did not have a secretary. They said the Town Board should have found a secretary for the board.

“It was up to the new Town Board to pick up the ball but they didn’t,” Thom said.

The Dec. 4, 2017 meeting actually happened before the new Town Board took over on Jan. 1, 2018. The ZBA secretary ended her employment in November 2017, and a new secretary wasn’t in place for the December meeting.

“For the minutes to just now appear is distressing,” said Morrisey, who was appointed the ZBA chairman this past January.

Hinman, the engineer with the MRB Group, said his firm would be willing to help the town as it works to clarify the text for the historic district. The town has formed a committee to work on an update to the comprehensive plan for the community, as well as the historic district.

The ZBA said it would consider a proposal from MRB, with the goal to allow some development in the historic district. Hinman said the expectations for the historic district should be clear in the town’s zoning “so this doesn’t happen again.”

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