City attorney says Mayor Smith doesn't have to recuse himself from Stewart's project vote

Apr. 8—WATERTOWN — Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith can continue to voice his concerns about plans to build a new Stewart's Shops convenience store on Washington Street.

City attorney Robert J. Slye has determined that it's the mayor's decision whether to be involved in the discussion about the proposed store.

Mayor Smith needed to disclose that he owns property two doors down from the project, and he has done that, Mr. Slye wrote in a letter on Thursday to Stewart's.

"The ultimate decision is Mayor Smith's and, in my view, his disclosure of his interest was sufficient to allow him to continue if he desires to do so and his duty as an elected officer requires nothing less," Mr. Slye wrote.

At Monday night's City Council meeting, Mayor Smith acknowledged that he owns property near the project site.

For weeks, the City Council has grappled with the Ballston Spa company's plans to replace a 2,500-square-foot store at 1226 Washington St. with a 3,975-square-foot store about a half mile north.

Mayor Smith has supported his neighbors' battle to stop the store. The controversy over the project has been a zone change at a house at 108 Flower Ave. East needed for the project to proceed.

Mr. Slye questioned whether the company wants to silence the mayor during the debate.

In a letter earlier this week, Chuck Marshall, real estate representative for Stewart's Shops, criticized the mayor for publicly disclosing that he owns property near the project but continuing to weigh in on the development.

Mr. Marshall made his views known after he learned that the mayor recused himself from a debate 10 years ago about a planned uniform shop that would have been built on the same Washington Street property where Stewart's wants to build the new store.

Mr. Marshall questioned why the mayor abstained from the vote in 2012 but did not recuse himself from discussing the new store now.

But Mr. Slye believes that just because the mayor recused himself 10 years ago, it doesn't mean he is bound to recusing himself now.

Responding to Mr. Slye, Mr. Marshall said on Thursday night that this is the first time that Stewart's has requested an elected official to recuse themselves from a project discussion out of the 350 stores it has developed over the years.

Flower Avenue East residents oppose the project, citing such issues as the store would change the character of the neighborhood and that more traffic would turn onto their street and drive by their homes.

The Stewart's plan needs a zoning change from Residence B to Neighborhood Business for the project to proceed. The house at 108 Flower Ave. East needs the rezoning and to be demolished for the project. Three other properties at 703, 707 and 715 Washington St. have the correct zoning.

Mr. Smith owns a building that houses his business, QuickMed urgent care and a double house next door.