Planned Lowe’s scrapped

A Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse store planned for nearly three years on state Route 7 in the tow
PHOTOGRAPHER:

A Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse store planned for nearly three years on state Route 7 in the town just east of the village will not be built, corporate and local officials confirmed Wednesday.

The news took town and village leaders by surprise.

Company site planners and lawyers indicated over the past few weeks that construction contractors were being sought and work was to begin any day on a hay field overlooking the Wal-Mart plaza.

In a brief statement Wednesday, Lowe’s attributed the decision to increasing costs to develop the site.

Town Supervisor Roger Cohn and village Mayor Mike Sellers said a company representative had also noted the nation’s second largest home-improvement retailer was facing a slowing housing market and a sluggish national economy.

“Escalating site development costs required us to re-evaluate our plans, and Lowe’s has decided not to move forward with store development in Cobleskill,” Lowe’s spokeswoman Maureen Rich said in a three-sentence statement issued Wednesday in response to a reporter’s queries.

“The real estate process can be long and complicated, and our goal is always to build the best store on the best site for our customers. We appreciate the time and efforts of everyone involved in the process,” the Lowe’s statement added.

Cohn said he was informed via a Friday evening phone message and e-mail from Lowe’s regional site developer Rob Jess. Sellers said he heard from Jess over the weekend.

The decision comes only a few weeks after the village and the town resolved long-standing differences over selling village water and sewer services to the town for use at the Lowe’s site.

Town and village boards agreed May 27 to the town’s forming a water district to serve the proposed Lowe’s site.

“It’s so disappointing, because so many people did so much work on it,” Cohn said. “This came right out of the blue,” he said.

Now that the water and sewer district has been approved for the proposed site on the Margaret Adams farm property just east of the village line, Cohn said that should make the utilities available to other potential developers.

Surveyors have been working around the site in recent weeks and markings on Route 7 appeared to be in preparation for roadway redesigns.

After years of meetings, discussions, speculation and permit applications, “It seems like [they] owe us more than a phone call,” Cohn said.

Cohn had successfully pursued the intermunicipal agreement for the water district.

Before he retired last year, former town supervisor Michael Montario had also been working to get such an agreement, after the Village Board in December 2005 reversed a summer 2005 agreement by former mayor William D. Gilmore Jr. to sell the utilities to the Lowe’s site.

After talks bogged down, Lowe’s representatives said they would build their own waste treatment system and use a private on-site well for water to the planned 111,400-square-foot store.

Until last month, village officials had insisted projects in the town become part of the village and pay village taxes before receiving water and sewer access.

The 29.5-acre proposed site was never officially sold to Lowe’s, company spokeswoman Rich confirmed Wednesday.

Under an agreement with the landowner, Lowe’s had obtained project approvals and permits, according to local officials.

As part of the agreements between the village and the town, Lowe’s was expected to pay the estimated $150,000 difference between the expected $350,000 cost of a private water and sewage treatment system to cover the cost of installing pipes to the eastern edge of their site, plus another 2.2-acre parcel to be retained by Adams.

Lowe’s had not yet returned a signed agreement, according to Cohn.

“They got everything they wanted and they decided to pull out,” said Deputy Mayor Sandy MacKay. “So, maybe people should be more skeptical of developers’ plans,” he said.

“We’ve got to come up with a better plan for economic development strategies. … We’ve got to be thinking regionally,” Mayor Sellers said.

“Obviously there’s the loss of jobs and the county is going to lose a lot of sales tax,” he noted.

According to a February 2007 analysis by a Lowe’s consultant, the project would have employed about 125 workers once completed. About 75 percent of them would have been full-time employees.

Based on the projected direct sales of about $25 million per year at the Lowe’s store, the county and state would have split about $2 million in sales taxes. Five percent of the county’s 4 percent sales tax is split among 16 towns and six villages, based on total property value.

The village of Cobleskill typically receives the largest share, 13.7 percent, according to county Treasurer William Cherry.

While Jodie Rutt, executive director of the Schoharie County Chamber of Commerce, agreed the loss of potential sales, property taxes and jobs was a blow to the region’s economy, some local hardware and building supply business owners had been worried about the competition from Lowe’s.

“That put the chamber in an awkward position, we want the economic opportunities, but we hear from some of the smaller retailers.”

The chamber never took an official position for or against the Lowe’s project, according to Rutt.

“The fact that we now have a site that pretty much has everything it needs for a developer to bring something in is great,” she said.

On May 19, the Mooresville, N.C.-based Lowe’s Companies reported a nearly 18 percent drop in first-quarter earnings from a year earlier and lowered expectations for the year.

Categories: Schenectady County

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