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Schenectady City Council throws weight behind Hamilton Hill liquor store opposition

Schenectady City Council throws weight behind Hamilton Hill liquor store opposition

Retail sites proposed for Albany Street and Eastern Avenue
Schenectady City Council throws weight behind Hamilton Hill liquor store opposition
The City Council is opposing proposed a liquor store at 844 Albany St.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

SCHENECTADY — Attempts to kill a controversial proposed liquor store in Hamilton Hill continue to burn bright.

The City Council’s Government Operations Committee voted on Monday to send a letter to the State Liquor Authority (SLA) formally opposing the location at 844 Albany St., a measure opponents hope will put extra teeth into the effort to halt the proposal when the state agency weighs its decision on whether to grant a license later this summer. 

“The mayor’s office will also issue a similar letter,” said city Director of Operations Alex Sutherland. 

Also Monday, city lawmakers voted to send a letter to the city’s Planning Commission opposing a proposed new liquor store at 837 Eastern Ave. 

Concerning the Albany Street liquor store proposal, community leaders previously submitted hundreds of signatures to the City Council opposing the location, but the opposition was largely symbolic because the Planning Commission previously approved site plans.

Building owner Anju Sukhai, who applied for a license under the name “Bleu Wines & Liquors, Inc.” in May, was unreachable for comment on Tuesday.

HEARING NOT SCHEDULED

City Council members also sought additional clarity on the statutes governing the allowable distances between liquor stores and religious organizations. 

The proposed site is around the corner from Duryee Memorial AME Zion Church on Hulett Street and located directly across the street from St. Joseph’s Place, a community ministry.

The state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Law’s “200-foot-rule” prohibits licenses from being issued if the location of the establishment is “on the same street and within 200 feet of a building that is used exclusively as a school, church, synagogue or other place of worship.”

A “500-foot-rule” prohibits issuing retail licenses to any location within 500 feet of three establishments that are currently operating with on-premises liquor licenses. 

Distances are measured door-to-door "as the crow flies" provided the proposed retailer is on the same street, according to the state regulator. 

The application must now go before the full SLA board for a hearing, which are held biweekly in New York City.

SLA will weigh public input when deliberating whether to issue the permit, but those concerns must be voiced anew during the review process. Those submitting a formal comment will receive a notification alerting them to the hearing, which typically begins 10 weeks after the application has been filed.

People can testify either in person or via video conference at the agency’s Albany office. A date has not yet been scheduled, a SLA spokesman said on Tuesday.

SECOND STORE SCRUTINIZED

City lawmakers on Monday also voted to oppose the proposed liquor store at 837 Eastern Ave. 

The last licensee at that location was a convenience store called “Yazan Corner Store” that expired on Dec. 31, 2016, according to the SLA.

The proposal was on the city Planning Commission's agenda last month, but was tabled, said city Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico.

Planning documents list Faneza Ramdass as the applicant, who could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

The site is zoned “C-2” Mixed Use Commercial District, the same designation as the proposed Albany Street location, which was approved by the city Planning Commission because the proposal is classified as allowable use under current zoning regulations.

Advocates are hopeful they can quash the project, nonetheless. 

Eastern Avenue Neighborhood Association President Robert Harvey noted a string of similar businesses have come and gone at that location over the years.

A recent canvas of residents and neighborhood association members generated quality-of-life concerns similar to those raised in Hamilton Hill, Harvey said, including “harassing behaviors and the possibility of easy robberies due to the amount of cash flow in a store situated in a low-to-moderate income area.”

And echoing criticisms across town, he said a liquor retailer would represent a backslide of the sustained multi-year efforts to improve the neighborhood that are now reaching fruition. 

A roughly $20 million project would renovate the city-owned St. Mary's School on Irving Street into 25 apartments and demolish three commercial buildings across Eastern Avenue from the old St. Mary’s Church and replace them with 30 apartments and retail space.

Other businesses will better serve that incoming population, Harvey said. 

“A liquor store is the wrong business at this time."

LAWMAKER INPUT 

Despite their support, city lawmakers were mindful of sending an anti-business message to other merchants. 

“We certainly don’t want businesses to think we don’t welcome them here,” said Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo. “Certainly, [844 Albany St.] could be a reputable business that runs a good and solid business.”

Councilman Vince Riggi said he agreed. 

“But the neighborhood spoke at large and it’s clear that this is what they want,” he said.

Petitioners acknowledged the Planning Commission had no basis to reject a liquor store for the Albany Street location. To prevent future such projects, signatories asked the City Council to “identify and implement” ways to deny liquor stores “incompatible with positive development” through regulation or zoning.

City officials previously said Planning and Zoning staff have been working on updates to the city zoning code regarding allowable uses within each zoning district that will eventually will be presented to the City Council. 

Perazzo called for urgency.

“I’d like to see that on the agenda sooner rather than later,” she said.

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