Planning board acts to strengthen hand with Foodtown Plaza developer
By Kevin Foley
Philipstown residents who rely on the Cold Spring branch of the U.S. Postal Service will be able to mail their holiday packages this year, but it is not at all clear what will happen in 2012 as the long-running saga over retaining the postal branch within the FoodTown Plaza, after the supermarket expands, took another turn this week. Both the Cold Spring Planning Board and the FoodTown Plaza developer, Gus Serroukas, took actions that appeared more intended to stake out positions than resolve the issue. Serroukas wrote a letter to the Planning Board, read aloud at the Tuesday, July 5 Village Hall meeting, by Chairman Joseph Barbaro, in which the developer indicated he was working on a six-month extension of the post office’s lease in its present location. The current lease is due to expire at the end of July. In the letter Serroukas did not say when and if the deal would be done. He did say he was leaving the country for about six weeks.
On Wednesday, in answer to an inquiry from Philipstown.info, postal real estate specialist Paul F. Tyburski said in an e-mail: “I prepared and mailed a lease extension document to Mr. Serroukas today. I anticipate the signed document returned to me by early next week. The extension is for a six-month period.”
During the Planning Board meeting Chairman Barbaro expressed disappointment over the prospect of a six-month extension for the post office. At previous meetings he has told Serroukas the Planning Board needed an open-ended extension to have sufficient time to complete its work without the constant threat of the post office leaving. Tyburski has previously told the Planning Board that the Postal Service saw no viable alternative to the Foodtown Plaza site and would consider leaving if its lease expired without another option on the site. “The board has to first approve any plans for the site, construction has to be completed and a new space has to be made ready for the post office. That isn’t going to all happen in six months,” said Barbaro. “The applicant [Serroukas] is not working with us to move things,” added Board Member Joseph Immorlica.
For his part, Serroukas has not told the Planning Board much about any new plans that would allow the Foodtown supermarket to expand (per its agreement with Serroukas), make acceptable new room for the postal operations and satisfy vociferous local neighborhood concerns about vehicle traffic safety and encroachment of the business zone into the residential district. His letter only vaguely referred to meetings with Mayor Seth Gallagher and the FoodTown supermarket owner, Dan Katz. “We don’t even have new site plans, what are we supposed to do,” said Board Member Parge Sgro.
Clearly not relishing its role as arbiter of a dance among the developer, the postal service, the supermarket and the local residents, the Planning Board took two new actions obviously intended to send a message to the developer. It voted first to petition the Village Building Inspector, William Bujarski, to find the planned expansion of the Foodtown supermarket into the post office space a “change of use” and therefore subject to review by the Planning Board. A reversal of the usual method by which an applicant finds itself before the Board, the move would at the very least make Dan Katz a more interested party to the discussions regarding the overall plan. Up until now observers have assumed FoodTown could just move into the post office site as a matter of right on Aug. 1.
The Planning Board then voted 3-2 to retain the services of an outside traffic expert, Robert Chamberlin, a senior traffic engineer at Vermont-based Resource Systems Inc., to assist the board to evaluate any further plans Serroukas submits. The developer will have to foot the bill, at $215 an hour, for the board’s consultant. Chairman Barbaro recommended Chamberlin based on a referral from the Comprehensive Plan Special Board’s consultants at Green Plan, a Rhinebeck-based firm. Barbaro stressed the Special Board had carefully vetted consultant candidates and therefore the recommendation of Chamberlin carried a lot of weight. He said he had spoken with Chamberlin for 45 minutes after sending him a previous Serroukas site plan and an article from Philipstown.info describing the issue and was convinced he was the right person. Arne Saari and Richard Weissbrod agreed with Barbaro’s reasoning. Members Immorlica and Sgro argued for more candidates and consideration of local firms, but to no avail.
In other business, the board scheduled a July 19 workshop to continue reviewing Scenic Hudson’s plans for the West Point Foundry Preserve. Scenic Hudson’s parks director, Rita Shaheen, expressed the hope the board would schedule a public hearing after the workshop as a prelude to a final approval, but Chairman Barbaro was noncommittal.