For this column, The Weekender briefly descends from the heady heights of presidential politics to the wetlands on the Chatham Village/Ghent border. I attended the public hearing held on the evening of Sept. 19 at Tracy Memorial Village Hall concerning two competing visions for the development of about a dozen acres abutting Route 66. As one now dead politician frequently intoned while in office (free large latté at Ralph’s to the first reader who sends that president’s name to me at email@example.com), “let me make one thing perfectly clear, I am not,” suggesting by the title of this column that the best use of the building currently housing Price Chopper, should it leave, is a 23,000-square-foot Burger King. But there were many whoppers, little lies and ludicrous pronouncements made at this public hearing. Without categorizing them, my favorites were the overarching claim to competence and trustworthiness by the Price Chopper contingent and the equally absurd assertion of objectivity and civic mindedness by the Chatham Plaza team.
While the Price Chopper experts explained how carefully and well-conceived, researched and vetted was their plan for a new 45,000-square-foot supermarket, I was thinking that these people represented the same company that had planned so well that they were abandoning a nearly new store and willing to pay eight years of rent to escape it and move just a few hundred feet south. The flip side had the owners of Chatham Plaza singing the song of civic virtue and village beautification as if seeking beatification for building their hideous little strip mall and sucking some of the vitality out of Chatham Village’s truly beautiful Main Street. Both sides attempted to play the historic preservation card. And if you were a Martian peeking in on the meeting you might be forgiven for conjuring the image of the White House surrounded by Eden as the parties described the ugly terrain encompassing the old but unexceptional Blinn-Pulver Farmhouse.
As a litigator who has deposed and decapitated many “expert” witnesses, The Weekender was especially amused by the hired gun appraiser’s claim to objectivity. He said that he was the only person in attendance who held no position on Price Chopper’s proposal, before summarizing a report that was commissioned and paid for by his client and would never have seen the light of day (or in this case the dark of night) had the client not been pleased with its conclusion. He opined that Price Chopper’s abandonment of Chatham Plaza would cause its appraised value to plummet and place added burden on remaining village taxpayers.
In the expansion/development sphere, The Weekender has also been around the pool a few times. I served on the boards of Brookhaven National Laboratory and the New York State Convention Center and in that latter capacity, helped block a misguided $2 billion-plus expansion of the Javits Center to contiguous plots on Manhattan’s west side. In that expansion debate, as in the current one in Chatham, the real issue is whose financial ox will be gored. However, the competing parties reflexively invoke their concern for the environment and claim to be its best protector. That, as some may recall, was how Manhattan was deprived a modern circumferential highway called “Westway” in the name of protecting the spawning grounds of the Hudson River Sturgeon. Those sludge-covered fish swam through my mind on Sept. 19 as each side described their stewardship of adjacent waterways and the exotic wildlife supposedly frolicking there.
After hearing both sides out, The Weekender has an opinion about which group of developers had the better argument concerning the best location and size of Chatham’s Price Chopper. If candor counts for much, the answer is neither.