Nearly three years and roughly $100,000 in engineering fees later, work has begun on a new Planet Fitness corporate headquarters on the vacant site where the Main Florist once stood.
Crews began erecting the frame of the 12,000-square-foot building on West Campbell Road this week. Owner Dave Leon said construction will go quickly and anticipates he’ll be in the building sometime in June.
“It’s going to be a good project,” he said Monday.
But the recent progress hasn’t done anything to allay the acute frustration Leon developed during the lengthy approval process with the town. He faulted the town for posing one obstacle after another during the process, which dragged on from the time he purchased the property in February 2010 to when he received the final site plan approval in December.
“Every step of the way there was a barrier,” he said. “Had they let me go in the beginning, this place would have been built in three months.”
Instead, Leon said he found his project churning through a bureaucracy posed by the town’s Department of Public Works. He said he was forced to conduct a number of lengthy reports — including four traffic studies that cost him a combined $50,000 — and even submit to an archaeological review of the site where the florist once stood.
“Instead of being a liaison in support of a project, there was a lot of resistance in the background,” he said.
And then months turned into years. An exasperated Leon complained to the Town Board over the lengthy process in November, when he took issue with what the town was proposing to charge him for a sewer connection.
At the time, Leon said he was being asked to pay $15,000 to help upgrade a pumping station. Yet two of the other three users — 192-unit Long Pond Village and Rotterdam Square mall — had sewage demands that far exceeded the ones proposed in his three-bathroom building.
“How come all of this stuff wasn’t brought up in the beginning?” he asked. “And it was always coming from the Planning Department.”
Naturally, town officials had a markedly different take. Public Works coordinator Vincent Romano blamed the lengthy process on Leon, claiming the business owner didn’t have everything in order to progress in a timely manner.
“If he had everything he needed in advance, the building probably would have been erected by now,” he said. “By no means was it the town’s fault.”
Romano said the approval process Leon was subjected to was no different from any other project to come before the town’s Planning Department.
“There’s no question about it, everybody is going through the same thing,” he said. “There are things that have to be done.”
Main Florist went out of business in 1999 and the property quickly fell into decay. Demolition crews removed most of the business in February 2007, but a project to redevelop the land into a retail building and restaurant went inactive amid the national economic downturn.
The property then became a haven for illegal dumpers. Several rusted dumpsters left over from the demolition remained on the site for several years until the town threatened legal action against then-owner Frank Popolizio.
Leon closed on the property in February 2010 and almost immediately cleared the remaining debris from the property. The site was among the last of the vacant commercial lots near the exit off Interstate 890.
Original plans called for retail spots for a gun shop, laundromat, bank and beauty salon, in addition to 3,100 square feet of office space on the second floor. A second phase of the project includes an adjoining building with 9,000 square feet Leon is now marketing to a national restaurant chain.
Leon said he paid $275,000 for the property, but has since paid more than $100,000 in engineering fees. He said two of the initial tenants he had for the proposed building pulled out as the approval process dragged on.
“Luckily, it’s a strong enough project that when I lost two tenants I got two more,” he said.