Wednesday, May 15, 2019

As Good as It Gets

Last night, the six members of the Planning Board present (John Cody was not there) approved the site plan for the Stewart's Shops expansion at Green Street and Fairview Avenue. For the first time, Chuck Marshall had a rendering to show what the gas station and convenience store would look like, instead of simply presenting engineering drawings as he has in the past.

Marshall enumerated some changes to the plan: five more arborvitae and two more maples; LED pricing in the canopy instead of freestanding signs; tinted concrete for the fuel pump island. On the issue of the building entrance and the ice cream window, Stewart's wasn't budging. The main entrance to the building still faces the parking lot, with a secondary entrance to the building from Fairview Avenue, and there will be no ice cream window, which Marshall claimed wouldn't be used eight months out of the year.

Before the Planning Board began its discussion of the Stewart's project, Walter Chatham, who chairs the board read a letter submitted by Matthew Frederick, whose suggestions for improving the proposed plan have guided the Planning Board in its review. In the letter, Frederick addressed first the issue of the building entrance:
With the support of residents living across the street from the site, I have urged a "corner entry" in lieu of Stewart's proposal for a parking lot-facing main entry and secondary sidewalk entry. This is the single most important, pro-urban improvement that could be made to Stewart's site proposal. Urban buildings need to face and direct their primary energy to the street. But Stewart's is proposing a suburbanized, side-facing building that gives primacy to the parking lot.   
Stewart's has claimed the corner entry is infeasible because it conflicts with the store interior. But it has offered no evidence that it would force an unworkable floor plan. Granted, the Planning Board does not have authority over floor plans. But neither should the board cede its authority over an important aspect of a site plan over an unsubstantiated claim. This is an important project to get right, and until I am shown otherwise, I am inclined to trust my professional experience in both urban design and retail design, which says that with a little more attention the site and the interior can work together.
Frederick supported his argument with juxtaposed images of the entrance he had proposed for the building and the Stewart's building in Troy, which is the pattern being used for the Hudson Stewart's.

The two images were accompanied by the following captions:
[Left] My corner entry proposal: At the left front building corner, one door faces the sidewalk, and another door (behind khaki-uniformed figure) faces the parking lot. The overall energy of the building is directed toward the street. This is further enhanced by the placement of tables and benches on the sidewalk frontage rather than on the parking lot side of the building.
[Right] Stewart's new store in Troy is effectively identical to its proposal for Hudson. The building's predominant energy is away from the street and toward the parking lot. This dynamic will not be fundamentally affected by the inclusion of an active door under the portico to the right (the Troy store does not have a door here).
Despite Frederick's cogent and well-considered argument for a reconfigured building entrance, the Planning Board did "cede its authority over an important aspect of a site plan." After making a SEQR negative declaration, the Planning Board, in a voice vote rather than a roll call vote, approved the site plan presented, with three conditions:
  • The landscaping be maintained and replaced as needed
  • Anything of architectural significance in the two houses being demolished be salvaged for reuse
  • The Common Council successfully negotiates a host community benefit agreement with Stewart's Shops
Regarding the demolition, Marshall explained that, after asbestos mitigation had been done, the buildings would be turned over to the fire department for training exercises. Craig Haigh, former fire chief and now code enforcement officer, commented from the audience, "After we get done with them, there won't be much left." He clarified, however, that the training exercises did not involve setting fire to the buildings. 

Regarding the host community benefit agreement, Marshall indicated, as he has before, that Stewart's was committed to making pedestrian improvements to the intersection but anything beyond the sidewalk was off site and would be part of the host community benefit agreement. He mentioned specifically crosswalks, ramping, and push buttons to control the traffic light, but he acknowledged that he was "not expecting to pay what he was offering," implying that he expected the Common Council to demand more. City attorney Andy Howard noted that what is requested in the host community benefit agreement "needs to have some sort of rational relationship to the project," which seems to negate the notion that Stewart's will be giving the City hundreds of thousands of dollars to do with as it pleases. Howard reiterated that site plan approval was contingent on successful negotiation of the host community benefit agreement. "If the Council doesn't approve, Planning Board approval doesn't take effect."  

1 comment:

  1. Funny, sorta, the Stewarts next to the Rip Van Winkle Bridge roundabout HAS an existing corner entrance!

    What don't I get about their denial ?