CVS Pharmacy’s revived plan to demolish an eyesore and build a new store at the corner of Guilderland Avenue and Curry Road — directly across from a Rite Aid — will move forward after the Town Board’s approval of a zoning change this week.
The plan, which involves demolishing three homes on Lawndale Avenue and a dilapidated mixed-use building to build a 13,225-square-foot store and 80-space parking lot, has faced opposition from residents since being proposed in 2011 and was rejected by the Town Board in 2012. Once the new store is built, CVS plans to close locations it rents at Five Corners and on Broadway.
The Town Board gave unanimous approval to change the zoning of 1, 7 and 9 Lawndale Ave. and 950 Curry Road from residential to retail business after hearing from unhappy neighbors Wednesday night. Residents cited the likelihood of increased traffic cutting down Lawndale to avoid the busy Curry Road intersection, and the potential for the drugstore to attract crime to a residential area.
The approval of all four Town Board members was needed because residents submitted a protest petition.
“Although I do appreciate that CVS is trying to make some concessions, and it all looks good on paper, I’ve seen your buildings,” said Roxanne Heller of Oakdale Avenue, one of three neighborhood residents to speak against the project that night. “They don’t fit into the character of the neighborhood, and they never could. It’s too big.”
Heller reminded Deputy Supervisor Wayne Calder that, three years ago, he voted the project down “under the guise of there’s too much traffic.”
“That has not changed, sir,” she said, adding that a casino planned for Schenectady and an aquarium being built in Rotterdam Square Mall will bring even more cars through town.
Before voting in favor Wednesday night, Calder acknowledged he’d previously voted against the project. He cited the need to generate more tax revenue from businesses so that less of the tax burden falls on homeowners.
“I’ve learned a lot in three years,” he said. “I’ve learned that no matter where we want to put something new, no one likes it.”
Sandy Hutchins, a resident of Lawndale Avenue for 37 years, said the neighborhood doesn’t need another drugstore.
“What this neighborhood needs is a Main Street, and we may never have one,” she said.
Her husband, Al Hutchins, said the project is the same as it was three years ago when the board denied it. He said the drugstore will encourage cars to cut through his neighborhood.
“Anybody with some common sense is not going to exit onto Curry Road and fight that traffic,” he said. “They’re going to go out onto Lawndale, cut through the backyards where our kids play.”
Stefanie DiLallo, an attorney for CVS, said the company plans to build a 4-foot-tall berm with landscaping and a 6-foot-tall fence as a buffer to Lawndale. A mature tree will also be planted on the westernmost section of 9 Lawndale Ave., and CVS will also improve sidewalks at the Guilderland Avenue and Curry Road intersection.
The project still requires site-plan approval and a special-use permit from the Planning Board.
“This is just an open discussion to start,” DiLallo said. “If there’s something more the Planning Board wants, CVS is willing to do that.”
She said Creighton Manning Engineering of Albany submitted a traffic study to the Town Board in June that found the project and rezoning would have minimal impact. The state Department of Transportation found the report reasonable, she said.
She said contrary to what many residents have charged, the zoning change was not spot zoning — an arbitrary change that applies only to the applicant.
“It’s an extension of an already existing B-1 district,” she said.
She added, “The purpose of this request is to create enough space for this new use at this heavily traveled intersection.”
Councilman Joe Villano responded to residents’ concerns that the CVS would increase traffic and put the neighborhood’s children at risk of injury. He said he grew up riding bikes and playing in the streets of that neighborhood, where his parents still live, and at the time “there were many businesses in this area.” The now-defunct building was home to upstairs apartments and a deli, among other stores, he said.
“Businesses do create traffic,” he said. “As a child who grew up in this neighborhood, I understood those concerns, and I made sure I didn’t get run over, or else I wouldn’t be here for you today.”
Town Supervisor Harry Buffardi said he liked the project three years ago when he voted in favor of it, and that bringing a Fortune 500 company to Rotterdam would have a positive effect. He said the drugstore will “meet the needs of that community” and improve the corridor’s visual appeal.
“I think I brought it up that it reminded me of a 1930s Eastern European gulag the way it looks now,” he said.