The entrance to the historic Stockade neighborhood has long been marked by an abandoned, but historically significant, house.
Soon, visitors will instead be greeted by an independent bagel shop. But at least one resident thinks that will be even worse than the current emptiness.
The Schenectady Board of Zoning Appeals approved the bagel shop in the Gillette House at the corner of Union and College streets Wednesday despite resident David Giacalone making a passionate appeal to stop the project.
“It’s the boundary lines of a historic district that most needs your vigilance,” he said, urging the board to insist on office or residential space. “I think the integrity of the Stockade is in jeopardy if you give in to this.”
But several other residents stood in favor of the shop, which would be owned and operated by the McDonald family. The family also runs Pinhead Susan’s and two restaurants in the historic district: the Van Dyck and the Stockade Inn.
Since the building is on the periphery, it won’t hurt the residential neighborhood, resident David Lowry told the board.
“I can’t see any negative impact,” he said, adding, “We’re really looking forward to some place to go on our side of Erie Boulevard for breakfast.”
The Stockade Association sent a letter supporting the project. The Schenectady Heritage Foundation also supported it.
“We would like to see this building used. We feel strongly that using a building is the best way to save it,” foundation Chairwoman Gloria Kishton said.
Parts of the exterior facade — renovated years ago by the county — are starting to deteriorate, she said.
The house is the last piece of residential property before the commercial strip along Erie Boulevard. Nearby are three bars and a Burger King. Owner John McDonald spent a year trying to market the property as office space, but got only one nibble: a bank that wanted a drive-through, he said.
Residents strongly opposed the idea of a drive-through when McDonald suggested it for his bagel shop.
McDonald also said rental income wouldn’t cover the estimated $300,000 cost of rehabbing the interior, which was gutted.
“Obviously there is a financial hardship. We just couldn’t make it work,” he said.
Kishton said it wasn’t his fault.
“The county and the Chamber [of Commerce] actually created the hardship because of the lack of any attention to the interior. It was just allowed to deteriorate,” Kishton said.
Giacalone argued that McDonald couldn’t complain.
“When Jack bought this building, he knew very well what the inside looked like and what condition it was in,” he said.
The Gillette House was the home and office of Dr. Elizabeth Van Rensselaer Gillette from about 1900 until her death at age 90 in 1965.