DELMAR — Stewart’s Shops has a plan for its store at Elm and Delaware avenues, but it’s asking the town for help.
Nearly a quarter century after converting the former gas station into a solitary convenience store, Stewart’s Shops wants to reintroduce fuel pumps to the corner lot. The store chain has proposed a 3,975 square‐foot gable roof, concrete clapboard building for a new store. It is also pitching for a freestanding, 2,668 square-foot canopy to shelter gas pumps capable of fueling eight cars at a time.
Stewart’s Shops first introduced the plan before the town’s Development Planning Committee in June. The town initially balked at the potential sight of gas pumps though a Valero station stands across the street. That gas station, however, predates the town’s comprehensive plan of promoting a hamlet neighborhood.
The Saratoga Springs-based store chain was asked to return with a plan that hid the tanks behind the storefront out of view from Delaware Avenue. It tried to comply, “however having a firm understanding of the building and canopy layout has precluded us from proceeding with the detailed design elements to complete the plans and checklist,” said James Gillespie, of Stewart’s Shops. “We are requesting an opportunity to discuss the enclosed plans with the Board so we can proceed with the remaining items.”
Should the town approve the plan, it would not be the first time gas pumps stood on that corner lot.
When Stewart’s Shops first proposed its convenience store in 1997, store reps said it wasn’t interested in selling gas. The property had stood vacant for nearly 15 years. In that time, a skeleton of a former Gulf station and canopy stood in decay. Contaminated soil and the town’s want to keep it from being a gas station kept it empty before the present-day storefront was built.
Cumberland Farms previously bought the lot with plans to open one of its convenient stores and gas stations, but the application was never approved by the zoning board. In 1986, the board thought a retail store with a gas station would cause a significant impact on traffic. Nearly a decade later, the board accepted a proposed two-story business complex, but before the applicant could start building on the site, the soil was discovered to be contaminated with gasoline.
Stewart’s Shop has committed to its gasoline and diesel business in recent years. In January, Stewart’s spent $6.6 million to purchase Polsinello Fuel’s wholesale business at the Port of Albany. And, according to the Albany Business Review, it stands to acquire Red-Kap wholesale fuel distribution business and convenience stores before the year’s end.
Before Stewart’s Shops ultimately built its convenience store, its largest opponent was the neighboring Bethlehem Central High School whose principal protested against the potential sale of tobacco to students. Today, opponents speak more of pedestrian safety and ecological health.
“At a time when there are increased demands for electric cars and green energy, it seems shortsighted, and even backward, to consider a plan that would extend the foothold of a harmful industry at the expense of the health and well-being of local wildlife and people,” wrote Kathleen Hanley, adding that potential pollution would endanger neighboring residents and the Swift Wetland nature preserve. “While I concede that we do not yet live in a carbon-free world and gas stations provide a convenient service, we do not need two competing gas stations placed half a mile from two different schools.”
Another resident pointed towards the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Law, which commits New York to abstain from fossil fuels by 2050.
“Because of the law’s mandates, the need for any petroleum fueling pumps will cease to exist in less than 30 years. Knowing this, it is hard to understand why the applicant will commit such capital to this project, but that is their decision,” wrote Peter M. Iwanowicz. It would make more sense and be more environmentally sustainable to set up electric vehicle charging stations there.”
The town first needs to grant a site plan and special use permit before the store chain proceeds with reconstructing the corner lot. However, the lot is already zoned for a convenience store, which the chain points out in its application “includes the sale of gasoline, oil and other automotive fluids.”
Stewart’s Shops was to meet before the zoning board again yesterday, Tuesday, Dec. 1, after this edition was sent to print.