Village rejects eminent domain request Neighbors lose battle as planning board considers application for new Yesterdays restaurant
Photos by Linda Smith HancharickResidents at Tuesday's Warwick Village Board meeting.
By Linda Smith Hancharick WARWICK — Residents surrounding the property at 16 Elm Street packed the village hall Tuesday night but walked away disappointed and angry when the mayor and village trustees rejected their request to use eminent domain to acquire the land that is being considered as the new site of Yesterdays Restaurant. Mayor Michael Newhard began the meeting by reading a prepared statement unanimously agreed upon by himself and the four village trustees. “We have looked at your request with consideration and legal opinion and we unanimously as a board have determined that it is not an appropriate action,” said Newhard. In the statement, Newhard noted that the property has been zoned industrial since 1968 and changed recently to light industrial. The restaurant is an allowable use in the light industrial zone. This particular property, which was most recently used by Country Chevy as a parking lot, has been on the market for more than five years, he said, and marketed as a commercial site. Newhard also made mention of misleading characterizations of the project by some who called it a beer garden and biker bar, neither of which was ever proposed. John Christison, owner of Yesterdays on Main Street in the village, plans to buy the property and construct a 3,600 square foot restaurant with 2,000 square feet of outdoor decking. 'Not surprised by your response'Residents on Elm, West and Van Buren streets in the village border the property. They have fought the application since the beginning, almost a year ago. “Most people here are not surprised by your response,” said Patrick Gallagher, a resident of West Street who has led the charge against the project and wrote the letter to the village board to consider eminent domain. In his statement, Newhard explained that the village was interested in buying the property to use as municipal parking. But, he said, there is no urgent need to be resolved that would require eminent domain procedures be used. “Eminent domain procedure would undermine the fiduciary responsibility we have to the taxpayers of our village,” said Newhard. “The cost of the property and the multiple lawsuits would present a staggering sum of money that would be shouldered by the village taxpayers.” Gallagher and others brought up the noise, light and odor pollution they feel will result if the project moves forward. Gallagher noted that no one from the village board or the planning board went to the site to set up lighting or turn on a radio to see what impact they will have on the surrounding residents, one just 40 feet from the property line. “We don’t see the village taking our interest to heart here,” Gallagher said. “Does the village board have any concern with the impact to the neighborhood?” “The village board has been listening carefully over the many months to the voices of neighbors during the application and planning board process,” said Newhard in his statement. “We have respect and empathy for all involved – neighbors, applicant, landowner and planning board members. This is not an easy issue.” What is Warwick becoming?Others in the crowd angrily questioned what the village is becoming. Some noted that visitors are turning around and going home because there isn’t enough parking. Another said it’s becoming a party town with so many bars. Others said home values will drop and when owners can’t sell their homes, the area will become filled with renters. Mayor: The argument does not holdNewhard said that has not been the case in other areas of the village where mixed zoning occurs. In his original statement, he mentioned several restaurants that are located close to residential neighborhoods in the village without that result. “The argument of loss in real estate values does not hold when you look at comparable properties throughout the village,” he said. 'The procedure is so flawed'Stephen Gross, a former Village of Warwick Planning Board member and principal at Hudson Highlands Environmental Consulting, said a determination has basically been made by the planning board when they closed the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process. He said they closed it prematurely. “They should reopen SEQR,” said Gross. “They’ve said there is no impact. They can’t request mitigation on something they’ve determined has no impact. “This is so wrong,” Gross continued. “The procedure is so flawed, it’s ridiculous.” He said there will be lawsuit if the project is approved. “This will be so easy to prove in court.” NextThe Village of Warwick Planning Board is expected to have the project on its next meeting agenda on Thursday, Jan. 18, at 7:30 p.m.