As more business comes to Glenville’s town center and plans take shape for a massive riverfront project in Schenectady, town officials are turning their attention to Freemans Bridge Road, the corridor that connects the two.
The 1.3-mile road is one of two gateways between them, connecting Erie Boulevard and Route 50. Development is picking up on both ends of the increasingly busy corridor, but town officials say the road itself is not living up to its potential. They hope a simple zoning change eventually will revitalize it and could make way for a widening to allow four lanes of traffic.
“We don’t see it as a blighted area by any means, but we think there’s some great potential there,” said town Supervisor Chris Koetzle. “I think there are some areas that need some sprucing up, just like the town center.”
The zoning change would alter lower Freemans Bridge Road from a research-and-development classification to general business. This would open it up for more retailers and restaurants, two things that town residents have said they want.
“R&D is just industrial, and it prohibits general business from setting up shop there,” said Koetzle. “Why would the gateway into our town be industrial? It doesn’t make sense. By changing it, we could market this corridor more aggressively to businesses like hotels, restaurants and so on.”
The zoning change still has to go through several committees and a public hearing before the board could approve it. Koetzle said this could happen as soon as June.
The impetus for the zoning change was a purchase at Schenectady County’s annual foreclosure sale last fall. Pat Popolizio, owner of the successful Waters Edge Lighthouse and marina on the north side of Freemans Bridge, sent his son to the sale to buy up a dozen acres of vacant, previously contaminated land next to his property along Freemans Bridge Road. Koetzle said he was having conversations with Popolizio regarding development of the land when it became obvious the current zoning severely restricted the possibilities. Popolizio told The Daily Gazette earlier this year that he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with the land, but could picture it as suitable for large businesses or even a mall.
There are four main eyesores along Freemans Bridge Road that town officials have wanted revitalized and that property was one of them. Previous owners, including Kitchton Cooperage Company and Lyons Ventures Inc., contaminated the site from the 1950s through the 1970s. The state Department of Environmental Conservation cleaned it up in 2006 and 2007.
Town officials are also hopeful that another purchase at the county auction will spur new commercial development. Peter Guidarelli bought about 20 acres at 122 Freemans Bridge Road, an overgrown piece of land across from Walmart that previously was owned by Schenectady Seed Co., a now-defunct farmers market and garden-supply business that operated for more than a century.
Other sites the town sees as ripe for redevelopment include the old Sarnowski’s Van Curler Greenhouse property at 66 Freemans Bridge Road and two contaminated properties at 99 and 101 Freemans Bridge Road near Lowe’s Home Improvement.
“I think the two concerns are that the contamination needs to be abated and the road needs to be widened,” said Koetzle. “We have a tremendous amount of opportunity there to really develop it into a retail corridor. We even have a [planned area development] in front of Lowe’s that is available and would make a great site for a restaurant.”
The zoning change and contamination cleanup are the town’s immediate goals, but eventually Koetzle said they would like to look at widening the road to four lanes to accommodate increased traffic. Freemans Bridge Road starts as four lanes where it begins at Erie Boulevard, and narrows as it approaches Maple Avenue. Koetzle said it would be difficult to widen the lanes as long as the Boston & Maine railroad crossing stays where it is, just south of Dutch Meadows Lane.
“We’re having preliminary conversations with DOT about bringing it to four lanes and possibly making the rail crossing into some kind of overpass,” he said. “There are no plans yet and nothing’s imminent.”
Switching to four lanes would ease traffic congestion, he said, and allow increased traffic along the corridor. A higher traffic count would allow the town to better market the corridor to developers, he said.
“Freemans Bridge Road is not really ranking high on the traffic count compared to some of our competition, like Wolf Road and Altamont Avenue,” he said.
As Glenville wraps up its beautification initiative in the town center, which includes new lighting and sidewalks, Koetzle said he hopes to eventually do the same thing along Freemans Bridge Road.
The time to revitalize the corridor is now, he said, as Schenectady is about to embark on a major redevelopment of the former American Locomotive Company site just south of Freemans Bridge Road on Erie Boulevard. That project is slated to bring a hotel, upscale apartments, condominiums, retail space, a marina, a restaurant and maybe even a casino just outside the entrance to Glenville.
“There’s so much opportunity to turn this into a destination corridor,” said Koetzle.