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Schenectady planning commission OKs new Eastern Avenue liquor store

Schenectady planning commission OKs new Eastern Avenue liquor store

City Council considering six-month moratorium on liquor store applications
Schenectady planning commission OKs new Eastern Avenue liquor store
The City of Schenectady Planning Commission has unanimously approved the site plan for a liquor store at 837 Eastern Avenue.
Photographer: Peter Barber / Gazette Photographer

SCHENECTADY — The city Planning Commission has unanimously approved the site plan for a proposed liquor store on Eastern Avenue.

But it may be the final application of its type approved for the next six months.

The City Council is poised to vote Monday on a 180-day moratorium for all new liquor stores in the city.

The proposed ban comes amid opposition ignited following a proposed project in Hamilton Hill earlier this winter. 

Since then, a coalition of residents, nonprofits and churches have delivered hundreds of signatures to City Hall lodging formal objections, contending the businesses act as magnets for criminal activity and present a setback to recent neighborhood revitalization efforts.

Faneza Ramdass owns the building at 837 Eastern Ave. and said she and her husband aim to be community assets.

In response to questioning from planning commissioners on Wednesday, the Ramdass’ pledged enhanced lighting, security cameras and aesthetic improvements prior to opening the new location, which they hope will be this fall after receiving a permit from the State Liquor Authority (SLA).

The couple is also preparing to refurbish the brick facade. 

Robert Harvey, president of the Eastern Avenue Neighborhood Association, said a recent survey of members indicated a liquor store is unwanted.

While pleased that Ramdass wanted to open a new business, he asked her to consider other ideas, such as an internet cafe, beauty shop or a storefront offering farm-fresh produce. 

“I can’t stop this particular use of store, but can encourage a different use,” Harvey said. 

Ramdass said she understood the neighborhood’s concerns.

“The last thing we want is people there lingering,” she said. “We want it to be a nice, classy little place. We’ve already put a lot of time and resources into it.”

Both the Albany Street and Eastern Avenue locations are awaiting liquor license approval from the SLA.

The state agency will consider public feedback while weighing whether to grant the applications. 

The City Council has formally voted to oppose the applications, and resolved to send a letter to the SLA formally opposing the location at 844 Albany St.

Lawmakers previously authorized sending a letter to the city Planning Commission opposing the Eastern Avenue business.

Several commissioners criticized that decision at Wednesday’s meeting. 

“These folks have done everything requested of them,” said Richard H. Ferro. “I think it’s a travesty to signal to the SLA they will not be granted a license.

“We need to help small businesses a lot more the City Council is going to do.”

Vice Chair Bradley Lewis called it a “cheap shot” and said ultimately the free market will decide if a business succeeds or fails.

“Stores are there for demand, and frankly, there are a lot of entrepreneurs here who are doing a lot of things,” he said.

Pro-moratorium lawmakers have defended their opposition, citing neighborhood feedback. 

“I think the neighborhoods have spoken quite loudly to us,” said City Council President Ed Kosiur on Monday. 

“It’s definitely a very real issue,” said city Planning Commissioner Mary Moore Wallinger, “which is a reason behind the moratorium the (City) Council will be exploring.”

Some lawmakers took a more nuanced approach. 

“I don’t want it to be more difficult for us to do business in the city,” said Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas. 

She noted she and her husband were met with dim reception when they opened a warehouse 15 years ago, but are now considered to be a community asset. 

“I don’t want us to get the black eye that Schenectady is hard to do business in,” Zalewski-Wildzunas said.

Both the Albany Street and Eastern Avenue locations are within “C-2” Mixed Use Commercial Districts, which means running liquor stores are allowable. 

To quash future projects, opponents have asked the City Council to “identify and implement” ways to deny liquor stores that are “incompatible with positive development” through regulation or zoning.

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

Councilman Leesa Perazzo said she and Kosiur met with the city’s Development Office on Monday. 

“They’re still doing research," Perazzo said. “As you can imagine, it’s a delicate process.”

Zalewski-Wildzunas also asked the city’s Law Department to research what other cities are doing to change zoning to accommodate whatever issues arise around controversial businesses.

Harvey encouraged city officials to consider developing a comprehensive plan to guide economic business development for Eastern Avenue, enlisting stakeholders like Metroplex, the Capital Region Land Bank and the city’s Development Office to commission surveys, use urban planning tools and hire consultants to develop future growth templates.

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