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Public sounds off about Warrensburg's proposed retail development moratorium

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WARRENSBURG — Comments during a discussion of a proposed moratorium on new commercial retail development in the town’s historic district ranged from predictions of missed opportunities to support so the town could update its zoning regulations.

The moratorium, introduced by Town Board member Richard Larkin in August, would allow already-approved projects to proceed. Existing structures could be improved, maintained, expanded or demolished as long as it wasn’t for new commercial retail development.

Some residents at Wednesday’s meeting were concerned about threats to historic buildings along Main Street if the moratorium isn’t imposed. A house at 3760 Main St. was recently demolished and a developer wants to build a Dollar General store there.

“I don’t want my town to look like every other strip mall up and down the highway,” said Teresa Whalen, director of Warrensburg Beautification Inc.

Investors who might want to buy old structures and rehabilitate them for businesses need to know their investment won’t be undercut by unsightly development nearby, she said.

Jim Hull, the town code enforcement officer, countered that some of the old houses in the historic district belong to people who can’t afford to maintain them and can’t sell them. The house that was torn down had been on the market for 10 years, he said.

“Who’s going to buy these places?” he asked.

“The cost to rehabilitate old houses is astronomical,” more than $300 per square foot, according to a developer who said he lives in Lake George and has worked on projects in Saratoga Springs. For example, old buildings aren’t insulated and may be contaminated with asbestos, he said.

“Saving them isn’t going to work,” he said. “A one-year moratorium (on demolition) would be a big miss.”

In a prepared statement, Town Board member John Alexander said the moratorium would affect him and his Main Street business. He called the moratorium “a disproportionate response to the possibility of one building being demolished” and “downright arbitrary.” The town “has potential for economic growth” but a moratorium would “undermine rebuilding bigger and better,” he said.

New development “could be done in a quaint way,” the developer said. With the boom in remote working capabilities, the second-home market, and the town’s location close to the Northway, a one-year moratorium could “severely hinder” the town’s opportunities, he said.

“Everybody here loves this town and wants what’s best for it,” said resident Janet Tallman. She pointed out that the town’s zoning regulations “have holes” and need to be updated.

Another woman noted that the point of the moratorium was to “slow things down” while the regulations are revised. “A moratorium may not be the way to do it, but then how do we do this?” she asked.

Resident Joyce Reed asked whether all buildings in the historic district would be covered, whether projects in the approval process would be halted and whether “retail” would include restaurants, bars and breweries. Larkin said he’d consult the town attorney and give her an answer before a public hearing.

Larkin and Town Board members Bryan Rounds and Donne-Lynne Winslow voted to hold a public hearing on the proposed moratorium. Alexander and town Supervisor Kevin Geraghty were opposed. The hearing date will be 7 p.m. Oct. 27 at a location to be announced. Geraghty said he’d ask about use of the school auditorium so more people could attend.

In other matters:

  • The town will hold a public hearing on the preliminary budget at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 20 at the Town Hall. The budget has no tax increase, Geraghty said.
  • Geraghty said he and the town engineers will contact a landowner on Golf Course Road about siting a new well for the town water system.
  • The town will rebid removal of sludge from the waste water treatment plant in the spring, when Geraghty hopes the town can get a better price. State water quality officials have said the town can delay the removal until then, he said.
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