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If you build it, will they stay put?

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CHATHAM — The owners of the shopping plaza on Route 66 have submitted designs to the village Planning Board to expand the plaza and the space that the Price Chopper supermarket now occupies. But that news comes even though Price Chopper has decided to vacate the plaza and build a new store nearby.

Dan Tuczinski, a lawyer for the Hampshire Company, which owns the plaza, was at the Planning Board meeting Monday, July 18 to discuss the proposed plaza expansion. Hampshire wants to expand the overall footprint of the plaza by about 17,000 square feet. In the process the Hampshire plan also calls for reconfiguring the store space, creating a new retail space of over 44,000 square feet, almost double the size of the 23,330-square-foot store Price Chopper now occupies in the plaza.

And while the overall plaza would grow in size, the new configuration would reduce the amount of smaller retail spaces.

There are two restaurants, a liquor store and a discount department store in the plaza. On the plans shown to the Planning Board Monday, the 20,500 square feet where those stores operate would be cut to 16,000 square feet, with a 13,000-square-foot space to the north of the main store and a 3,000 square-foot space to the south. The building would also expand westward toward the NYSEG utility building behind the supermarket. The plans call for more parking spaces as well.

“We are here committed to keeping [Price Chopper] here,” Mr. Tuczinski told the board at the meeting.

But representatives from Price Chopper, a chain operated by the Golub Corporation in Schenectady,  have said at past meetings that they need to move their store to the adjacent field because of issues of space in the old store, as well as not wanting to disrupt service while the new space is under construction. The new site lies mostly outside the village in the Town of Ghent.

The application for the new building has been submitted to the planning boards in Ghent and Chatham, but Price Chopper has postponed moving forward with a joint public hearing with the town and the village while it works out some remaining details of the project. With a small part of the proposed new Price Chopper building lying within the village limits, and the company has asked to use municipal water from the village system.

The proposal for a new supermarket next door to the plaza is subject to a state environmental quality review, or SEQR, and that has become a point of contention between the Ghent Planning Board and its Chatham village counterpart. The Ghent planners have a letter from the Chatham Planning Board agreeing that Ghent should assume lead agency status in the review. But more recently village Planning Board members have determined that their board should be the lead agency.

“Stand by your guns as lead agency,” Mr. Tuczinski urged village planners at this week’s meeting. He stressed that Chatham has the most to lose if Price Chopper moves next door to Ghent.

“Price Chopper wants to walk out on the plaza,” Mr. Tuczinski said in an interview after the meeting. He said that Price Chopper representatives have not attempted to work with the Hampshire Company on expanding the current store. But Hampshire is moving forward with the expansion to demonstrate to Price Chopper that it can be done at the plaza. He said the expanded space will be ready for Price Chopper to use of for “whatever operation wants to be there.”

Mr. Tuczinski also said that building on the current site will be a much more environmentally sound project than adding paving and building a new structure on the property next door. That land is part of a wetland, and Price Chopper has been working the state Department of Environmental Conservation on that regulatory issue.

The village Planning Board recommended that the Hampshire designs be reviewed by the Zoning Board of Appeals, since there is some question of the ownership of the two parcels of land that the Plaza sits on. Mr. Tuczinski said that both parcels are owned by Hampshire but were put under different names. He said his client plans to come back to the Planning Board with updated plans.

The village Planning Board meets on the third Thursday of the month at the Tracy Memorial. The board’s next meeting will be Monday, August 15 at 7 p.m. For more information go to the village website, www.villageofchatham.com.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email eteasdale@columbiapaper.com.

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