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Plan for new Stewart's sparks controversy

"Anyone who has been in our existing parking lot knows how difficult internal circulation is - and with this new development, we'd completely alleviate those problems," he said. "At this point, we want to invest in improving our locations."

It's no secret that parking at the existing Stewart's store has been frustrating, as customers' cars are routinely wedged in between the store and other motorists filling their tanks at the gas pumps.

Nearly two years ago, Stewart's had planned to buy the Potter's Diner property next door to their existing store on lower Main Street to accommodate a new store and fuel island.

Stewart's had signed a purchase contract with the presumed owner, Virginia DeFranco, but after a legal wrangling between her and Potter's Diner operator Rena Morehouse, Morehouse ended up selling the property to Toney Properties LLC, a partnership headed up by Jack Toney, for $157,990 this fall and Morehouse signed a two-year lease to operate the diner, which is now out of business.

The Toney partnership then offered the property to Stewart's for $500,000, a price that Lewis said was far too high.

"The property off Stewart Farrar is much more desirable, considering its size and location," he said. "It will accommodate vehicles towing boats and trailers, and the lot is large enough to have more pumps, adequate parking, good traffic circulation and landscaping - the parking area is substantially better too."

A zoning change would be needed because a rectangular portion of the property on the intersection of Elm and Stewart Farrar is zoned Professional Multi-Family - which doesn't allow busy retail operations - while the rest of the plot is Hamlet Commercial, which would allow the store.

HHHN founder Dr. John Rugge said he hopes the zoning change is approved soon.

"In my view, this is a win-win situation - the town gets a much nicer Stewart's in the middle of town in a high-toned professional setting," he said.

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