Given the recent spate of ill-conceived and ugly projects to get the Village of Cobleskill Planning Board’s approval it should come as no surprise that the Village seems poised to sit back and allow yet another development that will change this community’s character and quality of life for the worse. This time, Village trustees and planning board members are scrambling to find a way around the existing village zoning ordinance to allow Stewarts Shops to expand its gas station to an adjacent parcel (the former restaurant at the corner of West Main Street and Harder Avenue).
The current village zoning code limits new gas stations to village gateway (vg) districts. Stewarts Shops on West Main Street is one of several gas stations in the village that are not located in a village gateway district and are operating as non-conforming uses. In order to expand, the zoning status of the parcels in question must be changed either by granting a variance (unlikely in this case), expansion of the village gateway district, amendment of the existing zoning classification or the creation of a new zoning classification altogether. Seemingly off the table, however, is the option of simply leaving the zoning ordinance in tact and rejecting the proposed project.
Unfortunately, this course of action is unlikely as village officials are understandably eager to see two long-vacant parcels put back on the tax roll. But economic development is not the only concern here. The Planning Board must ask the equally important question: Does this re-zoning serve the interests of the residents it is going to immediately affect?
If allowed, an expanded Stewart’s gas station will result in an intensification of vehicular traffic that will most certainly inconvenience and very possibly endanger residents of Harder Avenue, Bridge Street and West Main Street, not to mention SUNY students walking to and from Downtown Cobleskill. The increase in cars turning in and out of the gas station would render that side of West Main Street a virtual no man’s land for pedestrians. Even worse, this would force pedestrians to cross the street to avoid the traffic and walk on the opposite side of the street.
There are also sizable opportunity costs associated with this development. For example, if Stewarts expands it will preclude the much more desirable possibility of somebody local buying those adjacent parcels and opening a business that could better serve not only village residents but SUNY students who live close enough to walk there.
I hope the Planning Board examines these concerns before doing something stupid that could have long-term negative effects on this community.
Fact is, this could present even more issues to the West End of the village if, for example, the Planning Board proposes to extend the village gateway district to the Stewarts site. This could open up additional parcels to similarly intense and inappropriate development. Hopefully, the planning board and the VBOT will carefully consider the manner in which they gut the village zoning ordinance so as to avoid any collateral damage down the road.
Overdevelopment in the village in and of itself is not the issue here. My complaint is that rather than looking for an end-run around the village’s zoning ordinance to accommodate a gas station expansion that will ultimately encompass an entire block in a residential section of the village, officials should ask what impact this expansion will have on residents of the west end of the village, and maybe even what they would prefer to see developed there.
A vote for Mark Galasso and Mark Nadeau (both developers) was a vote for the exact opposite form of government. Instead we have a government that bends over backwards for developers but would charge residents a fee to file codes complaints against slumlords. Apparently Cobleskill voters agree that the village’s historic buildings should simply be trashed and replaced with drugstores and mega-gas stations on every corner and that village government should be used to protect slumlords. Or maybe they’re just not paying enough attention.