County Planners say no to Zion Lutheran


By Patsy Nicosia

No to plans for a restaurant, bar, and performance space at Zion Lutheran Church, empty since a devastating fire in 2020.
That’s the recommendation of the Schoharie County Planning Commission after reviewing a request for a use variance from NCR Cobleskill LLC, forwarded by the Village of Cobleskill Planning Board.
The Village Planning Board could over-rule the CPC, but that would take a super-majority.
The sale of the 615 Main Street building is dependent on the use variance; the site is zoned R3, which doesn’t allow for restaurants, and use variances—which must prove things like financial hardship—are nearly impossible to get, said County Planner Zach Thompson.
Last September, RJ Freitag, who works in the music industry, said he and his partners planned to renovate the church and bring in larger- and medium-size touring acts.
CPC members’ concerns were that the church would “be more of a bar than a restaurant,” something prohibited by the Head Start school immediately at its rear.
They also pointed out that the special use request didn’t quantify the financial cost of not being able to get the use variance, calling the application incomplete.
The cost of renovations is estimated at $800,000—a figure CPC members who’ve been inside the badly-damaged structure scoffed at.
Cobleskill Mayor Becky Stanton-Terk said she has a copy of Mr. Freitag’s business plan, and “I do have some questions and concerns about making that church a bar,” she said.
“An entertainment center, great,” she said. “But in my personal opinion, a bar would be inappropriate.”
Mr. Thompson said NRC’s best option would be to request a zoning change, adding, “I don’t see how they can get a use variance.”
Also Monday, the CPC gave a thumbs up to Backyard Outfitters’ plans to move their Empire Sheds business from the old Guilford Mills site to six acres it bought nearly next door from the Schoharie County IDA.
Backyard Outfitters will use the old IDA building for its offices and put up 2-3 buildings for manufacturing its sheds.
The CPC ruled the project has countywide significance because it could increase traffic—though Mayor Stanton-Terk said that’s unlikely to happen.
They’re already using Mineral Springs Road, she said, because their trucks can’t go under the South Grand Street railroad bridge.
The wine packing business at the old Guilford needs to expand into the space Backyard Outfitters had been using, Mayor Stanton-Terk said.