Stewart’s project proposal renewed

Vacant lots on Washington Street and Flower Avenue East in Watertown, where Stewart’s Shops is proposing to relocate its existing Washington Street convenience store and gas station. Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — Nearly a year after first discussing the issue, Stewart’s Shops has reiterated its interest in constructing a new, larger convenience store a few blocks from its existing location on Washington Street.

Michael A. Lumbis, the city’s planning and community development director, confirmed a Stewart’s representative from Ballston Spa, Saratoga County, contacted city officials about building the new store on three vacant Washington Street lots and a residential property at 108 Flower Ave. East.

Last November, Stewart’s contacted Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith to see if the City Council would have any objections to the project.

“I thought it was sort of dead, but I guess not,” Mr. Lumbis said.

Last year, council members expressed several concerns with the location of the new store, including that it would change the character of the neighborhood.

Mayor Smith said he’s already been contacted by several neighbors who have concerns about the project, particularly about the operation of the fueling station portion of the plans.

“There’s definitely a lot of concern,” he said.

As he did a year ago, Mayor Smith said the new location is in proximity to a series of professional and medical offices, including the QuikMed Urgent Care that he owns, and near Samaritan Medical Center.

Neighbor Maryellen Blevins, who lives next door to the site and whose husband operates a therapeutic massage business, said she received a letter from Stewart’s Shops last week about the project inviting her to a meeting to find out more about it.

She’s opposed to the convenience store and gas station, citing environmental concerns. She said that gas vapors containing Benzine, a carcinogen, would emanate from the fueling station.

“I don’t want my children to smell those fumes,” she said.

Councilwoman Lisa A. Ruggiero hasn’t made up her mind whether she will oppose the project, adding it will depend whether neighbors are against it, she said.

Chuck Marshall, real estate representative for Stewart’s, said the company has been working on the project behind the scenes since it first came to light last November.

The company can proceed with the new store now that it has the property under contract to buy it from current owner, Hedy M. Cirrincione, a former Watertown resident now living in Cocoa Beach, Fla. That’s why city officials were contacted recently about the plans going forward, he said.

The existing convenience store is at 1226 Washington St., several blocks from the proposed location. Now vacant lots, the three properties at 703, 707 and 715 Washington St. were once the site of apartment buildings and have been up for sale for a few years.

The current owner demolished the rental properties, after deciding she was tired of being a landlord. The three Washington Street properties are zoned Neighborhood Business, which is allowable for the store. Zoning for 108 Flower Ave. East must be changed from Residence B to Neighborhood Business, Mr. Lumbis said. The project also needs a special use permit.

The project will be discussed by the city Planning Board on Tuesday.

Mayor Smith said his main concern is the Flower Avenue East property. The development will “be creeping” into a residential neighborhood, he said.

The existing store has been open since 1995 “and has reached its physical and functional obsolescence, requiring complete replacement,” Mr. Marshall wrote in a Sept. 16 letter to Mayor Smith.

The proposed project includes a 3,975-square-foot store, three gas islands and 18 parking spots. No other retail businesses are in close proximity.

The project could come up for discussion at Monday night’s City Council meeting, but council members will not take any action, Mayor Smith said.

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