The Accord Granary building at the corner of Granite Road and Towpath Road has stood empty for decades. Accord LLC is the name of a group planning to restore and reuse the historic building as well as several others that occupy 2, 4 and 8 Towpath Road. Henry Rich, who owns Accord Market, is one partner, and Renn Hawkey is the other. They have applied for a zoning change enacted by the town in 2018 called Economic Enterprise Overlay [EEO]. Before opening the public hearing, town supervisor Mike Baden explained:
“This is a two-step process. The first step is to petition the Town Board for a zoning [change] ... There is a second step … site plan approval by the Planning Board,” which requires a public hearing as well.
An architect for the project, Scott Dutton, made a presentation. His Kingston firm has “completed a number of historic preservation projects.” He explained the proposal as currently visualized, using maps on easels.
“We’re proposing to use the existing entrance at Granite Road and Towpath … the first structure we refer to as the Sears House. That is proposed to be four guestrooms, a hotel.” Another existing structure, the "Blue House," will be “a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor to be used by the owner-developers,” with the downstairs as extra room. The "Yellow House" at 8 Towpath is proposed to be a bike shop. The parking lot will mostly be an already paved-over area. "We’ve wrapped the parking along the power-line edge of the property. The lines you see in brown are wood-chip paths. Those would connect the parking to the structures.
“The tall barn will have 11 guest rooms,” Dutton continued, "eight on the upper floors, three on the ground floor, with a small lounge. So that’s a total of 15 bedrooms for [the hotel] and two for staff.” A new 1,500-square-foot "wellness" building is planned over the footprint of an existing foundation.“The granary structure itself has a restaurant on the ground floor, a small retail element … and on the second floor a flexible co-working space. All of the structures will be renovated to the standards of the Historic Preservation Office and the park service," requiring "exhaustive documentation and a very thorough review." Gravel roadways, a courtyard area and about 49 parking spots on site were also mentioned.
There were so many people signed up for public comment that Baden made a point to remind everyone to “make your comments as brief as you can."
The first commenter, Jay Martin, said, “I have several serious concerns about this project. I live at 18 Towpath Road. My property is immediately adjacent to” the project. He was concerned about what kind of septic system is planned. “My property has three wells on it, one of which is within 100 feet of that proposed septic system … I’m hoping that the Town Board, in its hopefully infinite wisdom, is giving serious consideration to the zoning laws,” which "should not be amended just so some group can garner a profit to the detriment of others. The drainage system there now overflows anytime there is a severe rain … it spills over onto Main Street and Towpath Road.” A paved parking lot “will not permit any kind of saturation into the soil ... Since our hamlet has no municipal water system, everybody either owns or shares a drilled well. Think about that, people, while you are giving consideration to this zoning.”
Hudson Roditi, who also lives nearby, remarked, “I remember these buildings as a kid." When he looked at the requirements for an EEO on the town website, he found it hard to comprehend. “So questions remain open for me. And it’s making me nervous. [I would expect] as a co-owner of immediately adjacent property,” that there would be more detailed explanation, he said, “to make sure I fully understood what they were proposing, just so I wouldn’t be unnecessarily resistant to it.” He worried about possible event space. “I wouldn’t like coming home at the end of a difficult week and realizing that 100 revelers from some distant suburban area were coming to celebrate and we’re going to be up all night." However, "I just want to say that in many ways it sounds like a beautiful thing,” he added. “I hope that’s what it would be. But I don’t have answers to all my questions."
Lindsay Arnold said, “I wanted to add my voice for a version of this that works for the community, because I think it is important for Accord to have more of an economic base for local people to work here and also to enjoy having another restaurant in the area. I see this as a positive. .. and I’d love to see this project move forward.”
Max Grieshaber expressed a different view. "I am very involved in civil rights. Historic overlays [HO] used to have a provision that said you could not utilize HOs to discriminate against people … Towns could use overlays to discriminate against minorities, for example. They took that regulation out of historic overlays in just the last three years.” Rochester's EEO law doesn’t mention discrimination, “so right from the get-go, unless it includes protections for civil rights I wouldn’t even consider it.”
Sheila Finan, who lives at 42 Granite Road, said, "There are considerable negative impacts to the proposal," listing increased traffic, noise, light pollution, She was also afraid that the project would give the owners outsize power in local affairs. “It would cause an LLC to be in control of the area instead of individuals. LLCs do not have the same kind of commitment to a community … the EEO would reduce the ability of the community to weigh in on what is being done.” The proposal for a hotel represented the loss of potential affordable housing, she said, and increase in property taxes. “It will pressure elderly people to move out of their homes. It would be a dramatic change, a much busier landscape … leaving one group in control of most of the economic activity in the town … The wishes of residents who have made Accord their home should be taken into account.”
Brinton Baker commented, “I’m excited about having these old buildings renovated, and at the same time I want to make sure that the local people are not impacted adversely. Change is hard for people. These things are happening all over the country every day.”
Chase Brock, co-owner of the renovated Accord train station, spoke in favor. "I have a direct interest in this project … Since living here, we’ve always felt that Main Street needs culture and needs life. Part of what we do is bring artists to the community.” (Brock is a choreographer.) “People would spend time on Main Street instead of just passing through … so, we’re in support of the [zoning] change.”
David Stoltz said, “I’ve lived at 31 Main St. for about 60 years now. Henry Rich is my neighbor on both sides, and he’s a scholar and a gentleman. A very good neighbor.” He expressed the hope that things will go smoothly for the project.
Bob Anderberg, another longtime resident, said, "I think the applicants have presented a thoughtful and innovative project which would be a substantial asset to Accord ... the feed mill, the O&W railroad … this project honors and builds on [local] history.” He also sees a connection with the O&W Rail Trail extension planned “all the way to Port Jervis … I think the railbed, when rebuilt and renovated, will be a huge draw." However, in response to people's concerns, he said, “Once the EEO is adopted, I hope this project gets carefully examined.”
Alix Umen, who co-owns the Starlite Motel on Route 209, commented, “When we first heard about this project we were definitely upset, because it brings direct competition to our business. But ... the thoughtfulness that everyone has put into this project … is incredible. We’re excited to have another restaurant to go to, to have another location to just hang out at. I feel like the circumstances of the neighbors can be addressed. Because I’m on the housing board, I’m definitely tuned in to workforce housing, and I hope that Henry and Renn really consider the opportunity they have to add more to the property.”
Adriana Farmiga, Umen's business partner, said, “Depending on what side of the spectrum you come from, what angle of the community you represent, I think a lot of valid questions have been raised … one thing I think the project offers is local employment, which I think is important, also a community gathering space. I grew up in Kerhonkson, so I’m looking forward to seeing a revitalization.”
Anthony Crook had a unique concern. “Overall, we’re inspired by it … we just have one issue. Our house was built on the train line … we look right out onto it … we’re raising a family.” He also reminds the board that in considering EEO status they have to decide whether “undesirable change” would be brought by it. “If anybody has any doubts about what a public thoroughfare would do to our home, they’re welcome any time to come and see it.”
Bethany Ides said, “My real concern is maybe a lack of imagination [when it comes to] civic-mindedness. A lot of conversation has come up over the years as to what this project will involve." She thought that the project would include more small businesses, but the investors seem to have gone in another direction, “thinking of Accord as a place of comfort and vacation while other residents are struggling more and more … [I'd like to see] civic spaces where people from all different classes and backgrounds could meet. The jobs being offered by and large don’t strike me as really meaningful work. As hospitality became more and more of the plan, I’m seeing more and more high-turnover, high-stress, service-oriented types of jobs."
Sally Roy said, “It’s not a faceless, nameless corporation that’s coming into this town. It’s a person who’s already made an investment in our town ... he’s a good neighbor. I completely understand the concerns, but this is the first idea. Everybody’s going to take their concerns to the town board and the people involved and work something out… Things morph, things change as they develop. Historically, this IS a vacation town. There were bungalow colonies all over this town. Jack Schoonmaker [of Saunderskill Farms] talks about 400 people coming in on the train on Friday night.”
Katie Naplatarski, who spoke via Zoom, lives at 46 Towpath Road. "In my opinion … no outdoor music or amplified sound should be allowed at any time … this includes a ban on concerts and any events which include music. There could be rare exceptions. I think sound disturbance really affects quality of life immensely. I would like to say too that this could be an awesome project [but] I don’t think we want to have a place that has a feeling of exclusivity." She suggested the project could include a small indoor performance venue, community events on the grounds, historical artifacts on the walls, land acknowledgement to the Lenape tribe, and "green infrastructure."
Susan Bruck of 8 Main St., Accord, said, "I oppose the granary project as it stands for many reasons. What we need on Main Street are businesses that fit their footprint. This proposal does not …[It] would place unnecessary burdens on the town. What this community needs is more affordable housing long-term. This project includes more exclusive housing short-term – absolutely something we do not need.” She cited traffic and parking issues. "What this town needs is inviting and inclusive businesses open and attainable to a variety of people. This proposal outlines a contrived environment for the financially select, leaving the rest of the public to deal with the negative effects of overflow into the town.”
Guy Garcia said, “Frankly, when I go past these abandoned vintage buildings at night it scares the hell out of me of course there’s going to be a lot of different ideas as to what’s ideal … but I couldn’t be more grateful that we’re moving in this direction.”
Henry Rich offered to stay late to answer questions, “trade contact information with neighbors I don’t know.”
At the end, Baden spoke briefly, defining the EEO as a zoning overlay that covers the whole town. “The purpose is to take properties that are in derelict condition … and allow applicants to come up with a proposal for a specific property.” The Planning Board, not the Town Board, has oversight over all site plan details. "The EEO is flexible. This is multiple uses designed to fit into a concept … it’s an overall project – it’s not a bike shop, it’s not a hotel, it’s not a restaurant, it’s the combination of all those uses into one project. I’m going to recommend that we hold this public hearing open. Obviously there will be some discussion with the applicant as to some of the comments we’ve heard.”