City might seize Erie Blvd. properties
$14M road project requires demolition
SCHENECTADY City officials may use eminent domain to seize two Erie Boulevard properties needed for a massive road reconstruction project, including the Adult World bookstore and the former location of Special Arms & Munitions. The grant-funded reconstruction also will require property owned by Schenectady County and Pantalone Construction, but the acquisition will not involve demolishing structures.
Members of the City Council have scheduled a public hearing for next month to discuss taking the properties as part of the $14 million project.
Scott Lewendon, a landscape architect from Clough Harbour & Associates, said Adult World and the now-vacant gun shop will need to be demolished for the project. He said the buildings stand in the way of realigning South Ferry Street so that the “safety and operations” of the thoroughfare can be improved.
“There’s a need to realign the central intersection so that it’s perpendicular to Erie Boulevard,” he said following the City Council’s committee meetings Monday. “It’s the best way to design a highway and street.”
But Adult World owner Rocco Palmer has no intention of relinquishing the store he has occupied for 38 years or the adjacent building he owns that formerly housed the gun shop. Instead, he’s hired an attorney and is planning to wage a legal battle against the city the moment the eminent domain process begins.
“We’re destined to fight this thing,” he said after the meeting. “They want to demolish two of my buildings, but I’m going to fight it.”
Palmer’s bookstore is on about two-tenths of an acre and was valued at $106,000 in 2006, according to county records. The former gun shop is on less than a tenth of an acre and was valued at $78,900 in 2006.
Palmer claims he stands to lose up to $7,000 per month in lease payments if the city takes his property. Already, he said, the departure of the gun shop in June is costing him $2,000 per month in rent.
And Palmer isn’t the only Erie Boulevard business owner irate over the city’s plans. Dennis Kugler, the owner of the Sunoco station at the South Church Street intersection, said he was dismayed to learn the project will limit the number of curb cuts into his business.
Kugler said he was never contacted by anyone from Clough Harbor about the plans. He questioned how the reconfiguration of Erie Boulevard would affect his store’s business and hinted he might consider joining a lawsuit against the city if the project drives down his volume.
“I’m all for beautifying Erie Boulevard,” he said. “But what they’re doing is changing the traffic flow I think in a detrimental manner.”
Stan Ducharme, the owner of Schenectady Hydraulic on Erie Boulevard, was equally critical in his remarks about the project. He said the city hasn’t communicated well with business owners and has failed to keep the planning process transparent.
“No businesspeople have been involved in this process on Erie Boulevard,” he said. “Everything has been done underhandedly here, and they haven’t been telling us the truth since day one.”
Mayor Brian U. Stratton disagreed with these contentions. He said the project is bound to disappoint some people but needed to improve one of the city’s critical gateways.
“We’re looking at the greater good for our city,” he said. “That is our goal and that is what we have in mind.”
Stratton said feedback on the project has been overwhelmingly positive. He said the planning process has involved countless opportunities for any disgruntled stakeholders to offer an opinion.
“With any project, you’re not going to get 100 percent of property owners on board,” he said.
Stratton said the city will continue to negotiate with Palmer in the hope of reaching an amicable resolution with him. Palmer signed an agreement in 2005 indicating he would one day move. Stratton said Palmer will be adequately compensated for his properties and will be aided in his search for a new building for his business.
“We are working with him,” he said.