Stewart's site preparation begins despite judge's warning

WARRENSBURG - Monday morning, Morgan Harris sat cross-legged atop her sedan parked on Stewart Farrar Avenue, gazing across the street at lot that until recent years hosted the 1850s residence of one of the town's most influential citizens in its formative years.

Now, bulldozers ripped up earth on the lot, and chain saws buzzed as workers felled a few trees at the back of the plot. Excavation was just beginning to clear the site to prepare it for a proposed new Stewart's convenience store, to be located across Stewart Farrar from the historic First Presbyterian Church, where Morgan's mother Lucy is pastor.

Harris, a 2010 Warrensburg High School graduate now a Freshman at SUNY Pottsdam studying Environmental Science, explained why she was conducting a watchful vigil, gripping a baseball bat as she watched the development of the site, which has not only sparked considerable controversy in town, but prompted a lawsuit from citizens seeking to protect the neighborhood's historic ambiance and serenity.

"I woke up this morning to the sound of a big tree being cut down, and I am going to sit here to make sure these workers don't take down any more trees," Morgan Harris said. "I will sit in front of the remaining two trees if I need to, and if they try to move me, I have my bat."

Months ago, a group of 15 local citizens filed an Article 78 lawsuit, alleging that the town board didn't properly conduct a required environmental review for the store and the preceding zoning change. The suit included a request for a preliminary injunction to stop Stewart's Shops from proceeding with plans to build a store on the historic lot. The citizens' injunction request was declined recently by state Supreme Court Justice David Krogmann, who also rejected Stewart's motion to dismiss the citizens' lawsuit. In the decision, Krogmann warned that any excavation or construction at the project site would be at Stewart's peril if the company proceeded with the lawsuit's outcome still pending.

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