By Ashley M. Casey
Despite the dissent of two local grocers, the city of Fulton is going forward with Aldi’s plan to build a 17,651-square-foot grocery store on the former Nestlé site.
If all goes as planned, the Nestlé buildings will be demolished by the end of June and construction of the Aldi store will begin in July with an anticipated opening in December.
The Common Council voted 5-0 for the special use permit at the April 15 meeting. First Ward Councilor Tom Kenyon was absent from the meeting.
John Struppler, owner of Struppler’s Shurfine Supermarket, and John Hart, owner of the Save-A-Lot, each addressed the council during the public hearing about the special use permit with their concerns about how Aldi will affect local grocery stores.
“People are going to go. There just isn’t room,” Struppler said of small, independent grocers such as his own.
He listed the Fulton Price Chopper, the Granby Walmart Supercenter, Wegmans in Clay and several other area grocery stores saturating the grocery market in the region.
“In order for Aldi to take that parcel, it’s my understanding they need a zoning change,” Struppler said. “As I look around Fulton, having lived here for 22 1/2 years, I see where there’s plenty of spots and opportunities that really don’t require zoning changes.”
He suggested locations such as the former Cayuga Community College plaza on Route 3 and the former Kmart — previously P&C — plaza on Route 481.
Mayor Ron Woodward told Struppler the zoning change will come later, and the April 15 hearing was only for the special use permit.
Woodward said a manufacturing-to-commercial zoning change would be likely for the Nestlé property regardless of whether Aldi or another commercial enterprise took it over.
“Unless you get another Nestlé’s there, the property is worthless,” Woodward said.
“With all due respect, Mayor, I go up 481 and I see a lot of properties that are kind of worthless,” Struppler said. “They’re empty. They’re vacant.
“It isn’t just somebody crying, ‘oh, guy doesn’t want a little competition.’ We’ve got competition here,” Struppler said. “We beat each other to death every day.”
Struppler also said Aldi’s employment requirements would restrict many area high school students looking for work. Aldi requires a high school diploma or GED to work there.
Second Ward Councilor Dan Knopp acknowledged the independent grocers’ impact on the city.
“You put together a great product and we do appreciate it in the city,” Knopp said.
John Hart echoed Struppler’s concerns.
“If Aldi’s comes in, like John (Struppler) says, most likely one or the other of us is going to go,” Hart said.
Hart also said Aldi will create few jobs in Fulton. Typically, Aldi stores have only a few cashiers per shift to keep costs down.
“Their service is minimal. They do not have refrigerated produce. They don’t cut their own meat, which John and I do,” Hart said.
“Aldi’s is a foreign-owned company. That money eventually goes back to Germany,” Hart added.
Fulton resident Tim Doyle spoke in favor of the Aldi plan. He said while he saw Struppler and Hart’s concerns, east side residents lack a grocery store.
“Nestlé’s is a great spot. I’d love to see the eyesore gone. Nestlé’s isn’t going to reopen it. We’ve got to get rid of it,” Doyle said. “I think there’s room for three grocery stores. … If they can improve that Nestlé’s corner, it’s nothing but positive.”
County legislator Frank Castiglia Jr. asked the mayor what the assessed value of the Aldi store would be and what taxes the city might gain.
“You can’t assess a building that don’t exist,” Woodward said. “We will see what the value of that is when they put in their building permits.”
“Do we know what the developer plans on doing with anything in that development?” Castiglia asked. “The people I’ve talked to on Seventh Street are happy that there’s going to be a big change, and I don’t see it coming. … It looks like a war zone from World War II.”
Woodward said the Nestlé buildings and surrounding buildings in disrepair will be torn down to improve the area’s appearance.
Castiglia also raised questions of how many jobs will be created, whether Aldi will carry local products, and how the store will affect traffic in the area.
Fourth Ward Councilor Jim Myers said the planning commission already discussed traffic studies of the Nestlé area, and the mayor said the issue would be examined.
Kurt Charland of Bergmann Associates, the civil site engineers for the Aldi plan, presented a brief overview of the project.
“Prior to Aldi starting the construction of their building, the existing buildings will be razed and removed. … As much as the council said, Aldi isn’t going to want to put their new store next to a bunch of broken down bricks, steel and construction debris,” Charland said.
“It’s one of those ‘if you build it, they will come’: you build some new development on a site and start to bring in some other businesses. Typically, they follow suit and come in and fill that block in, which really creates a nice entrance to the city,” he added.
Aldi is purchasing 2.2 acres of property and will add green space and landscaping around the 17,651-square-foot store.
While there will be a sidewalk for pedestrian access, the Department of Transportation has refused access off Fourth Street/Route 481, so the main access to Aldi will be off of Fay Street.
“We would have preferred to have the access, but it is a tricky location, so we understand,” Charland said of DOT’s decision.
Charland said Aldi has very “green” practices and will install LED lighting that goes off at nighttime for “dark sky” compliance.
Aldi also will develop a system to retain, cool and treat storm water runoff before returning it to the Oswego River.