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A ground-floor plan for the Watkins Glen Apartments envisioned in the Middle School. It is color coded, with tan areas being the apartments, yellow the common areas (such as a laundry room, found on each of the three floors), and rust the boiler room and other utilities.

Planning Board moves forward with Dunkin' Donuts, Middle School projects

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 19 -- The Watkins Glen Planning Board moved forward on two projects Wednesday night -- the proposed Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot expansion, and the planned senior housing complex in the Watkins Glen Middle School.

The board, in a 3-1 vote, approved a preliminary site plan proposal by Dunkin’ Donuts, clearing the way for a public information meeting on the project at the board’s next session, on Oct. 16. Board member Tom Merrill opposed the move, saying that “the more space devoted to parking lots, the less space there will be for other things” in the village. He also said that the existing Dunkin’ Donuts lot is “empty 90 percent of the time” and that customer numbers “don’t justify expanding” the lot.

And the board, after a lengthy presentation by a Binghamton architect on the conceptual plan for the Watkins Glen Apartments -- the name selected for the proposed senior housing project at the Middle School -- told him and project associates to come to the next board meeting with a Preliminary Plan that the board can act upon, setting the stage for possible approval of a Final Site Plan in November.

Dunkin’ Donuts

The board heard, as it had in August, from James Gensel, a representative of Fagan Engineers of Elmira, who had been asked the month before to find out several facts and to possibly alter the landscaping plan for the perimeter of the parking lot adjacent to Franklin Street.

He told the board the following:

-- A second house north of the one expected to be demolished has indeed been purchased by Dunkin’ Donuts, but not for demolition -- at least not now. It will be rented out, with “possible commercial plans” awaiting it in the future.

-- Instead of eliminating a proposed fence along the eastern perimeter of the lot, the fence will stay for safety and security reasons, but be concealed from the street-side view by hedges.

-- Lighting that could be a potential nuisance will be studied with alternatives in mind. “We’ve gotta look at it a couple of different ways,” said Gensel. “We’re gonna troubleshoot that.”

-- Tractor-trailers will not be permitted in the enlarged parking lot, except for deliveries. “We actually don’t want them,” Gensel said. “We’ll add signage to that effect.”

-- Numbers provided Gensel by the business owners show a need for the parking lot expansion, he said, because the number of customers has increased 60 percent from the shop’s first year of operation, in 2009. The customer count that year was 158,000, and has gone up in succeeding years to 160,000 in 2010, to 174,000 in 2011, and to 231,000 in 2012. The total through August this year was 170,000, on track for about 250,000 customer visits by the end of December. “We are proposing a proportional increase” in the number of parking spaces, he said.

Watkins Glen Apartments

This project hinges on a state grant for The S.E.P.P. Group (Serving the Elderly through Project Planning), which is located in Binghamton and has turned several former schools into housing for the elderly in that region. On hand for Wednesday’s session were Dan Whelan of Bearsch Compeau Knudson, Architects & Engineers of Binghamton; Anthony Fiala Jr., Executive Director and CEO of The S.E.P.P. Group; and Susan Bacon Kimmel, president of the Two Plus Four Construction Company of East Syracuse. All are involved in the proposal.

Whelan did most of the talking, explaining through aerials and floor plans what the project will entail, should the state money come through and allow the S.E.P.P. Group to complete purchase of the building from the Watkins Glen School District for $550,000. The school is still in use by the district this year, but will be vacant next year as the district completes its transition to a single campus along 12th Street.

Whelan said the project involves:

--The development of 51 one-bedroom apartments for senior citizens 55 years of age and older. Each unit will have hot-water baseboard heat and its own thermostat. Heat and hot water will be included in the rent.

--The existing auditorium and gymnasium will be turned into a community center for such things as plays and possibly YMCA-style activities, and will be kept separate from the housing portions of the building. New energy- efficient windows will be installed throughout the structure, and some large windows placed high in the walls will be restructured so they are easily accessible.

--The exterior of the building will be largely kept intact -- with the main entrance and its canopy used "as is." In fact, where possible the “integrity of the building will be maintained,” Whelan said, although there will be the installation of such things as a dedicated elevator leading to the auditorium, as well as new exits from the gym and other points in the building. A 20-space parking area for “community use” of the gym and auditorium, he added, will be placed on the northeast corner of the property, and a paved playground area on the southeast corner will be eliminated and replaced by a green area for use by the building residents. Other landscaping projects are also being envisioned.

--The parking lot at the rear of the building will remain, to be used by the building residents. Whelan said that it should easily handle the vehicles owned by the residents, since “historically (just) 50% of the people in these buildings own cars.” With the shift to a multi-use facility, the parking lot will require a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals, but officials do not expect that to be a major hurdle.

--Each apartment will contain a shower with hand railings instead of bathtubs. The S.E.P.P. Group’s Fiala said they had tried bathtubs in similar projects in the past only to find that the residents almost entirely preferred the showers. There will not be central air conditioning, but each unit's residents can opt to install a window-based unit.

Whelan, Fiala and Kimmel outlined the financing process, including application to the state Division of Housing for a grant, and application for a separate grant involving the gym and auditorium. Fiala said his group had made it past the first round of the Consolidated Funding Application grant process for the gym-auditorium project. If the group fails to earn one of the 35 grants to be approved in “a highly competitive” process, he added, it would not mean the housing project would stall. That project could go forward, given that grant money is forthcoming for it.

Application for the housing grant must be made by Dec. 5, said Whelan, who urged the board to move the site-plan approval process forward as quickly as possible to show that the village is fully behind the project. That, he said, could be essential in securing the grant and proceeding with the project. A decision on the housing project funding is not expected until April or May, school officials have said, noting that if it comes through, construction would start soon thereafter and take about 20 months to complete.

Photos in text: Fagan Engineers representative James Gensel, who discussed the Dunkin' Donuts proposal; aerial views of the Middle School building, first as it exists now and, below that, with envisioned changes.


Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison

Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field


Legislature Chairman

Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687

Legislature Members:

Michael A. Yuhasz, 535-4967

Doris L. Karius, 546-5544

Barbara Halpin, 594-3683

Glenn R. Larison, 594-3385

Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen 481-0482

Stewart Field, Watkins Glen 535-2335

County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Margaret Starbuck, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383


State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Christopher Friend -- Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
Room 720, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-4538


© The Odessa File 2011
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869