SCHENECTADY — Critics of a proposed liquor store on Hamilton Hill continue to oppose the project, claiming that it would portend a reversal of the positive trends taking root in the neighborhood.
But opponents were told by city officials on Monday that their options for blocking plans by a private entrepreneur to open a liquor store at 844 Albany St. are narrow and any concerns must be taken up with the state Liquor Authority.
“The problem we have here is that it’s already gone through the planning commission and there’s not anything we can do to it,” said city Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas. “You really need to lobby the State Liquor Authority if you feel strongly about it.”
Councilwoman Marion Porterfield said she is currently exploring that possibility.
Lois Mitchell, a member of Duryee Memorial AME Zion Church on nearby Hulett Street, was among those who aired fresh criticisms to the City Council's Development and Planning Committee on Monday, citing problems associated with a now-closed liquor store previously located in the same neighborhood, which is among the city's most impoverished.
“The element that the liquor store drew to our community was horrendous,” said Mitchell, citing problems with loitering, noise and public drinking.
Others said the new store would detract from recent efforts to revitalize Hamilton Hill by building affordable housing and removing blighted properties.
“I think it’s ridiculous that they’re allowing a liquor store to be there because the area is now getting better and looking good,” Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association President Marva Issacs said last month. “We don’t need that.”
The Schenectady Planning Commission voted 7-2 in February to grant site plan approval to the proposed new business.
Kristin Diotte, the city's director of development, acknowledged there was no basis to deny the application, which is classified as allowable use under current zoning regulations.
But she said similar projects may be given a clearer path to being formally challenged as the city weighs changes to its comprehensive plan that would take into account perceived negative impacts on the community.
“We are working on amendments to the zoning code as we look at the comprehensive plan,” Diotte said on Monday.
The stretch of Albany Street is mixed-use commercial district, a blend of non-profits and convenience stores serving a low-income population.
Representatives of several non-profits voiced concerns to the City Council last month.
Sister Ann Brink, of St. Joseph’s Place at 837 Albany St., said the ministry serves many residents who are struggling with addiction.
"Some are in recovery and have a tenuous hold on sobriety,” Brink said.
A better option for the neighborhood would be a grocery store with fresh meat and produce, or a laundromat, viewpoints echoed by Schenectady Inner Community Ministry (SCIM), which operates a food pantry across from the proposed site.
SCIM Executive Director the Rev. Phil Grigsby said a liquor store would lead to an uptick in quality of life complaints.
“I can assure you that if that store goes in there, no matter what the intentions are, it’ll become a hot-spot for the police,” Grigsby said.
BACK TAXES AREN'T A DEAL BREAKER
Anju Sukhai is listed on public documents as the applicant.
A phone number for Sukhai wasn’t immediately available on Monday.
The property is owned by Sherman Boyle, who purchased it from the city last July, according to tax documents.
As of Monday, there is $11,670.40 in back taxes owed on the property dating back to 2015, said a spokesperson with the city Bureau of Receipts.
City Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico confirmed the parcel is on a list of properties subject to being seized by the city for failure to pay back taxes.
The city’s Law Department typically gives owners of tax-delinquent properties 90 days to pay before seizing properties.
Falotico said the city is readying those letters now, making the deadline early summer.
In some cases, taxes must be paid on tax-delinquent parcels before businesses can be awarded the mandatory "certificate of use," according to city code.
The city Codes Department issues those certificates to secondhand dealers, restaurants, drug stores and bars.
But liquor stores are exempt from requiring that certificate in order to legally operate, according to city code.