Proposed Byrne Dairy Stores in City of Cortland Hits a Snag

This is the proposed location for a Byrne Dairy gas and convenience store in Cortland. It’d be located at the intersection of Port Watson Street and River Street.

The proposed 4,232-square foot Byrne Dairy convenience store and gas station on Port Watson Street in the city of Cortland has hit a snag following miscommunication between city and Cortland County officials.

Dan Dineen (planning department advisor) and Trisha Jesset (director of the county planning department) compiled a staff report for recommendation of approval of the project, if a list of 21 contingencies were met.

The county planning board recommended the application for denial for a handful of reasons, even if the contingencies were addressed:

  • Several similar businesses are in close proximity to the location of the project
  • The lack of hardship demonstrated by the applicant
  • Potential change to character of the neighborhood that the store would bring
  • Traffic concerns at the intersection of Port Watson Street and River Street, with increased volume of traffic the project would generate

“When you have to come up with a list of over 20 contingencies that have to be met to gain approval, then maybe it’s just not right,” said Paul Slowey. Slowey is a member of the county planning board.

Dineen noted there “must’ve been a disconnection” between county and city officials when the staff report from the planning department and the resolution from the planning board was submitted to the city planning commission.

“The recommendation for denial is what should support the city for its consideration of a project,” he said.

On Monday, the city planning commission voted unanimously in favor of a recommendation to re-zone a small landlocked parcel at the Port Watson Street property from medium density residential to general business zoning. The recommendation was sent to the Common Council for approval.

The recommendation came after Byrne Dairy vice president Christian Brunelle conducted a presentation on the proposed store at Monday’s planning commission meeting.

Ann Swisher, chairperson of the county planning board, said the zoning situation required “too many variances.”

“If it requires more variances than normal, maybe it’s not a good idea to have a store in that location,” Swisher said.

Board members of the planning commission expressed concern on certain parts of Byrne Dairy’s site plan for the store, including the location of the store and an increase in traffic.

Jim Reeners, vice chairman of the planning commission, did however ask Brunelle if “is there anything in there you have difficulty complying with” in regards to the list of contingencies.

“I do not,” Brunelle replied, adding that almost all of the contingencies were addressed.

Slowey believed that Byrne Dairy’s intention was to pursue “parallel paths” for the project.

“The project should’ve gone through proper protocol with the city before it came to the county,” he said. “It’s their choice and discretion, but they need to get their ducks in order.”

Slowey added Byrne Dairy’s approach with the project “doesn’t put either body (city and county) in the best light.”

For the city to now approve the project, Dineen said, it would need to go through a supermajority of votes from the city’s planning commission, the zoning board of appeals and the Common Council. This means an extra vote would be needed beyond majority from each board.

Dineen added that the county can only make recommendations on projects, and “cannot prevent it from taking place or moving forward.”

Slowey said one of the reasons for recommendation for denial, which was “several similar businesses in close proximity to the location of the project,” pertained to Bill Brothers Dairy and Farmers Market across the street from the proposed location of the store and the location of several gas stations on Port Watson Street.

“You’re trying to make a certain piece of the puzzle fit, but it doesn’t,” he said.

Swisher mentioned, if needed, the county planning board would look at Byrne Dairy’s site plan again if it was “able to make changes.”

A representative from Byrne Dairy could not be reached for comment on Friday.