GLENVILLE — Plans to turn a former firehouse in West Glenville into a craft distillery are moving forward, after a protracted dispute that ended up in court and left another suitor for the property unhappy.
The former Rectors fire station on state Route 5, owned by the Beukendaal Fire District, is under contract to be sold to Guardian Preservation LLC. That company was formed last year by Scotia attorney Kenneth Gibbons with the goal of turning the building into a craft distillery. The deal could close as soon as this week.
But the sale was a contentious one that ended up in front of a state Supreme Court judge this summer, though both sides now say they’ve worked out their differences.
“At this point, it doesn’t matter what transpired; we’re moving forward,” Gibbons said.
Town officials have generally supported Gibbons’ distillery plans based on that business’s tourism potential, especially given the presence of Wolf Hollow Brewery and a maple business relatively nearby on the Route 5 corridor. Gibbons has been talking to the town’s Economic Development Committee about a possible loan to purchase equipment and is hoping to take advantage of a new state law that allows small, locally sourced craft distilleries and breweries to offer each others’ products in their tasting rooms.
“We want to open the doors as soon as possible,” Gibbons said.
The final necessary permit, from the state, can’t be obtained until the distillery equipment is installed, Gibbons said. He already has the necessary federal liquor-making license.
His plans have evolved. His initial proposal was for a small craft operation occupying only one firehouse bay. Now, he envisions filling the entire 3,700-square-foot building.
In January 2017, the town Planning and Zoning Commission approved a plan in which half the building would be a distillery and the other half office space. On Aug. 14, the commission approved a revised plan in which the entire building can be used as a distillery, with manufacturing, bottling, office space and a tasting room.
In between, though, Gibbons told the fire district on Feb. 3 that he was withdrawing from the deal because of changing circumstances, though five days later he notified the district he still wanted to buy the property. Fire district officials wanted to hold Gibbons to the termination notice, and possibly sell the building to someone else.
In May, Gibbons sued the district, saying his representatives were being prevented from entering the building to conduct environmental testing required by the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Beukendaal Fire District attorney Terence Hannigan said the district contested the lawsuit, but ultimately, the legal move spurred discussions that yielded an agreement to go forward with the sale. That agreement involved Guardian Preservation LLC paying an additional $5,000, bringing the total price for the old firehouse to $125,000.
Gibbons said the environmental testing — primarily concerning where liquids go after entering floor drains in the old truck bays — was done, and the results were acceptable.
“Finally, we had to bring the lawsuit to get people back to the table to talk about it,” Gibbons said last week.
After Gibbons withdrew his first offer — and before the lawsuit was filed — Patrick Morelli, owner of Glass Express in Glenville, notified the district of his interest in the property, hoping to move his business there. Now, he is angry about how the sale was handled.
Morelli said his business will be forced to vacate its 211 Sacandaga Road location as of Aug. 31 because that property — a former hardware store that he leases — is being sold to make way for a new mixed-use development. While he was only notified of the eviction date last month, he acknowledged that he knew the property was for sale when he moved in, nearly three years ago.
Morelli blamed the fire district for his predicament. He said he was given informal encouragement from people associated with the district, which services most of West Glenville.
“I’m left with nowhere to go because I relied on a promise,” Morelli said last week.
He said he’s been interested in buying the Rectors building since February 2016 but couldn’t arrange financing before Gibbons reached his initial $120,000 sale agreement with the district in June 2016. Morelli said he withdrew an offer on a more-expensive building near his current location to pursue the firehouse.
There were informal discussions between the district and Morelli’s attorney over the winter, during the time the fire district was arguing that Gibbons’ contract was terminated.
On March 9, Morelli’s attorney, Dean Riggi, exchanged a series of emails with Hannigan in which Hannigan said the fire district wanted to sell to Morelli, even though Gibbons was pursuing his claim to the property. The series of emails ended inconclusively, and Morelli did not submit a bid at that point.
Morelli didn’t make a written offer on the property until Aug. 12, at about the same time the fire district and Gibbons were settling their differences. He said his Realtor told him his $120,000 bid was considered a “backup offer,” in case the sale to Gibbons fell through.
Hannigan said the fire district did nothing wrong.
“I’ve been contacted by Mr. Morelli’s counsel, and I am aware of his interest in the property and understand him to be a good person and reputable businessman,” Hannigan said in an email to The Daily Gazette. “Unfortunately, the district only has one piece of property available for sale, and Guardian was the first party to express interest in buying it and the first party willing to go under contract to purchase it.”
Should the deal with Gibbons still fall through, Hannigan said other offers, including Morelli’s could again be considered.
“From the outset, the district has been on the legal and moral high ground in this matter and has acted with the best interests of the residents of the district in mind,” Hannigan said.
Which still leaves Morelli without a place to go, since his location just west of Scotia-Glenville High School has been sold to make way for a commercial-residential development on land between the school and the Glenville Business and Technology Park.
Glenville Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle said he couldn’t get involved in the dispute between Morelli and the fire district but said he is willing to help Glass Express find another location in Glenville.
Morelli said he’s considering a site on upper Crane Street in Schenectady, but he would prefer to remain in Glenville. He acknowledged the business needs to be in a commercial or industrial area, since metal and glass work can be noisy, and he is visited frequently by delivery trucks.