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State agency urges Gaines, developer to find alternative site for Dollar General

File photo by Tom Rivers: The interior of the schoolhouse in Gaines remains largely unchanged from when the school was closed in the 1950s. It was a public schoolhouse for more than a century.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 13 August 2018 at 6:19 pm

Constructing ‘generic modern store’ across from historic schoolhouse would ‘significantly alter’ visual environment and setting

GAINES – The state agency that works with communities to help preserve historic sites across New York is asking the Town of Gaines and the developer of a proposed Dollar General to find an alternative site for the store so it isn’t in a historic district.

Dollar General wants to build a new store directly across from the District 5 Schoolhouse, a cobblestone building that was built in 1849. That schoolhouse, and the nearby Ward House and Universalist Church were named National Historic Landmarks in 1993.

“This designation is the highest recognition that the United State Department of Interior can bestow on a property or district in our country,” Sloane Bullough, Historic Sites Restoration Coordinator for the NYS Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, wrote on Aug. 9 to Michael Grabowski, chairman of the Gaines Zoning Board of Appeals which is reviewing the project. (Click here to see the letter.)

There are only 262 sites in New York that have been designated as National Historic Landmarks and less than 3,000 nationwide, Bullough said.

“Landmark designation recognizes the exemplary historic or architectural significant a property may have in the history of the nation,” she said in her letter. “The schoolhouse, which was constructed in 1849, is an exceptional example of both the Greek Revival Style and the unique cobblestone method of construction, which is almost exclusively found in the central-eastern part of New York.”

NYS Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation urges the town and developer to find an alternative site away from the historic district for the new 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,” Bullough said. “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.”

If no alternative can be found, Bullough said the site 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.

“A side parking lot could be visually screened to lessen the project’s visual impact from the schoolhouse and the overflow parking in the rear for employees and customers could be installed to reduce the size of the parking lot that is visible from the street,” she wrote in her letter to the town.

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.

The Cobblestone Museum is opposing the project, saying it would hurt the character of the historic district. So far 250 people have signed petitions at the museum, opposing the store across from the schoolhouse.

Eight municipal historians have also written to oppose the location of the Dollar General. Click here to see their letter to the editor – “Historians in Orleans County say a Dollar General would destroy tenor of historic Gaines” – that was published July 11.

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