The Stewart’s Shop on the corner of Willett and River streets in Fort Plain may be in line for a radical face lift. Though there are no definite plans, Mayor Guy Barton hopes construction on an expansion will begin in the next few months.
“We’re very close to making this thing happen,” he said.
Stewart’s has recently been expanding existing shops in many locations including St. Johnsville, Cobleskill, the village of Schoharie and Glenville.
The usual protocol, according to Stewart’s spokesman Tom Mailey, is to buy and clear the land surrounding an existing shop, then build a new shop. Once the new shop is opened, the old one is demolished, with new parking and gas pumps taking its place. This strategy maintains operations at the site during construction.
“Fort Plain is one of a few places we are considering expanding,” he said. “We opened one like this in Duanesburg this morning and will open another in Halfmoon next week.”
According to Barton, who is in discussion with Stewart’s, the chain is looking to spend $1.3 million on the expansion.
“It would be a huge asset to our community,” he said. “It’s just one way in which we’re recovering. We’ve got a few new restaurants. We’re back on the ball after the 2006 flood.”
But not everyone in Fort Plain is happy about the possible Stewart’s expansion. Local unease stems from the two houses adjacent to the current shop that would be purchased and torn down to make room.
“It’s not just a matter of preservation vs. business,” said Tolga Morawski, treasurer of the Historic Fort Plain organization. “As a fiscal conservative, I don’t think it makes sense for the village.”
Morawski worries that added sales tax brought in by the revitalized Stewart’s will not balance out the lost property taxes from the two houses that will have to be razed.
“We already have two gas stations,” he said. “A bigger store won’t sell that much more gas and milk. We’re loosing $4,000 in tax revenue for each demolished building.”
One other issue is the way Stewart’s has gone about laying the groundwork for the possible project.
Barton has already met in private with Tom Lewis, Stewart’s Shops real estate representative, and the owners of the two properties.
“I’m a big supporter of Stewart’s,” Morawski said. “They do a lot of grants that are good for the area, but I think if they had met with the whole community, they would have come to a better solution for both the village and their store.”
That better solution, according to Morawski, involves an empty lot on the corner of Crouse and Canal streets in Fort Plain.
“It’s bigger than their existing location,” he said. “It used to be a gas station, so it’s already zoned for commercial use, and they wouldn’t have to knock down any buildings.”
If Stewart’s does choose to move forward with the Fort Plain expansion, the village Planning Board will decide whether the project will benefit the community, according to Board Chairman Immaculata Lieber.
“They’ll have to present a set of plans to the board,” she said. “Then it’s our job to review those plans and make sure they are up to the rules and regulations.”