Chris Ponessi of Mance Engineering, left, and Kerry McCormack of Crosspoint Associates, center, met with the Development Review Board on Feb. 21 to discuss the future of Manchester Shopping Center.
PHOTO PROVIDED BY CHERISE MADIGAN
PHOTO PROVIDED BY CHERISE MADIGANThe abandoned bowling alley behind the Manchester Shopping Center caught fire and was quickly doused Feb. 1. Public safety officials want it torn down.
By Cherise Madigan, Journal correspondent
MANCHESTER — The status of the former bowling alley behind the Manchester Shopping Center was the most contentious point of discussion at the Feb. 21 meeting of Manchester's Development Review Board, at which the owners of the shopping center requested a material amendment to their permits for a proposed redevelopment of the plaza.
That amendment became necessary after a lengthy Act 250 approval process, during which changes to the project, including an expanded river buffer, were made.
Now that all necessary permissions have been granted by the state's Act 250 Commission, said Chris Ponessi of Mance Engineering, the redevelopment can begin.
Before that happens, property owners Crosspoint Associates might have to grapple with the long-abandoned bowling alley behind the plaza, which caught fire Feb. 1.
After the blaze, which was quickly doused, Officer Ryan Matteson of the Manchester Police Department wrote a letter to the board formally requesting the building's demolition.
"I've lived in this town since 1998, and since that time it's been a closed, condemned building," Matteson later said, noting that while he "would have loved to see the building repurposed," the MPD has responded to a number of illicit activities at the structure, including vandalism and vagrancy.
"My understanding is that it's slated to be torn down, and it doesn't seem to be serving any purpose."
On Wednesday the board requested that demolition occur sooner rather than later; a proposal that was met with hesitation by Kerry McCormack, asset manager and director of development for Crosspoint Associates. At the meeting McCormack expressed his reluctance to commit to demolition before a formal lease for the redeveloped space is in place, and noted that a plaza employee checks on the structure twice a day.
Though the demolition of the bowling alley is slated to be "the first thing to happen" once the project commences, McCormack explained that the building could potentially be repurposed if the current project fell through.
"I think what the fire department and the police department want is for it to come completely down rather than patching it back up," said planning and zoning director Janet Hurley. "It's been attracting people, and if it were to be engulfed in fire it would endanger the response personnel who would have to go in to make sure that nobody was in there."
"I would be concerned if it was on my property," added board chair Timothy Waker. "God forbid a kid got in there, started a fire, and died in there."
Proposing a compromise, DRB member John Kennedy suggested that the board instate a "not later than date" for the building's demolition. Waker also insisted that fire alarms be installed in the meantime.
"I think from the board's perspective we want to see this project move forward, but we're concerned about safety whether or not you have a lease," Waker said. "For your safety, and to help the town's concerns, you should have the building fire alarmed until it gets torn down."
But that might not be as easy as it sounds.
"With the complications of construction and destruction it would not be efficient to bring in someone to take that down now," said Crosspoint spokesperson Tricia Hayes in a phone interview following the meeting, though she acknowledged that Crosspoint was considering fire alarms. "They're as anxious as anybody, and it will come done as soon as its judicious to come down. It just wont happen in isolation."
But when will the project begin to move forward? That timeline will not be solidified until a lease is signed for the space, according to Hayes.
McCormack acknowledged at the meeting that "a grocer is planned to be approved on site," though Hayes confirmed that Price Chopper has said they are "not interested in going forward." Still, the company has agreed to remain in the current space until a new tenant is found by Crosspoint.
Though Hayes said Crosspoint is close to sealing a deal with a different grocer, she added "nothing has been signed on the dotted line." Once that happens, McCormack explained that the project could commence as soon as this spring, with the new building "up and operational" by summer 2019.
"I know everybody is anxious to get the project underway, but unfortunately we have to walk before we can run," he said. "Until we have a lease, we don't have a project."
The lengthy Act 250 approval process also proved challenging, he said, taking longer than anticipated. During that process the inclusion of a 30 foot river buffer was requested by the commission. This larger buffer will alter the current plans to allow for a smaller parking space, reconfigured "islands" within it, an altered planting schedule, and the relocation of a propane facility to an area outside of the 100 foot flood zone.
Unfortunately, Ponessi acknowledged, the required buffer will leave The Manchester Riverwalk association to their own devices in their development of a recreation trail parallel to the waterway.
Though the original plans had allowed the path to continue through the Crosspoint property, a new trajectory remains unclear. According to Bill Laberge, president of the organization's board of trustees, new flood plain requirements adopted by the Act 250 commission have proven challenging at other commercial properties intersected by the Riverwalk as well.
"[Crosspoint] has been very supportive of what we're doing since the beginning," Laberge added, noting that the organization will continue to focus on developing the south side of the trail near the Factory Point Town Green. "We hope to provide access to the green from the Riverwalk this year, and possibly one or two bridges upstream."
A number of other details about Crosspoint's project emerged at Wednesday's meeting, including plans for a solar array to be mounted above the supermarket space. Sound attenuation items, including an HVAC unit in the back of the building, were also discussed. Like other new structures in town, including the Hampton Inn and Suites and the Taconic Inn, the facility will feature electric vehicle charging stations with marked parking spaces.
According to Hurley, the board will issue a written decision on the amendment "within the next week or two."
"[McCormack] and the whole crew are anxious to get this project going; it's been years," Hayes said. "This is just about the last piece of town that needs to be cleaned up or improved. We need to make that shopping center more vibrant, and the faster we can do it the better off everybody will be."
Reach freelance journalist Cherise Madigan at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Instagram as @cherisemadigan.
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