Autozone store is first business planned for LeRay retail hub off Route 11

The LeRay Planning Board reviewed Thursday a site plan proposed by a Carthage developer to build an AutoZone store on Route 11, the first step of a long-term plan to transform the property into a retail hub.

If the Planning Board OKs the proposal made by Lundy Development and Property Management, a 7,380-square-foot AutoZone will be built to the north of Freedom Plaza on the west side of the highway. Owner Michael L. Lundy, who owns 15 acres that extend to the north of the property for commercial development, hopes to have the project approved by the town in March. His construction company, Lunco. Corp., then would break ground in early spring and seek to finish the project by August.

Mr. Lundy said the AutoZone is the first among six to eight businesses that are planned for the large commercial site, which will feature a large Big Apple Music store to the north of AutoZone, owned by Robert D. Ferris of Watertown.

Building the AutoZone first was the most logical, Mr. Lundy said, since plans for connector roads at the site have been put on the back burner because other developers who own neighboring property are still developing their plans. The entry road that extends to the west will be linked to land now owned by three different parties: Mr. Ferris, Robert J. and Janice M. Piatt of LeRay and Columbia LeRay LLC. Each owner will give Mr. Lundy ownership of parcels that will become the site of the planned road.

“Building the AutoZone first will give us a lot more flexibility, because the developers we’re talking to are going to make plans based on what happens to the entry road and how I build” the store, he said. “We’re going to walk before we run.”

Mr. Lundy said the access road between Freedom Plaza and the AutoZone site will be extended about 1,000 feet to the west under the plan. That work will be completed by Lunco Corp. for about $1 million. According to a deal made by Mr. Lundy in July with the LeRay Town Council, the town will pay him $300,000 for the road, which it then will maintain. The town eventually plans to extend that road about a mile to the west to connect with Goulds Corners Road, which town officials view as a fertile area for attracting housing developers.

But Mr. Lundy said he hopes the Town Council will tweak some of its laws before he builds other roads for the project. He would like to build roads to be owned by his company that would link the businesses in the rest of the commercial subdivision, but the town has a law that prohibits commercial development on private roads. To solve this issue, Mr. Lundy urged the Town Council in December to consider repealing that law to assist him with the project. The Town Council, which was receptive to the proposal, asked the Zoning Board of Appeals to consider changing the law as a part of the zoning update it’s been developing for the past year; town officials say that plan likely will be completed in the spring.

Along with scrapping the zoning law, Mr. Lundy asked the council to consider altering its setback requirements for private roads by dropping the amount of frontage needed from 200 feet to 150 feet. Doing so, he said, would make the area bordering Route 11 more conducive for commercial development.

To link the retail parcels that will extend north from the entry road at AutoZone, Mr. Lundy said he hopes to build a private road that will create a second traffic outlet to Route 11 about a quarter-mile to the north. That access point would serve as both an entrance and an exit for southbound traffic on the divided highway.

“Other communities will typically allow (private) arterial roads that are owned by developers and have easement agreements with the tenants,” Mr. Lundy said, adding that the town of Watertown allows developers to manage private roads. “And changing the frontage requirements will allow us to better lay out our sites.”

Mr. Ferris, owner of Big Apple Music in Watertown, owns a four-acre parcel to the north of AutoZone, where he said a 5,400- to 12,000-square-foot store is planned. Under a tentative agreement made for the project, Mr. Ferris will transfer the ownership of his property to Mr. Lundy, and Lunco Corp. will build the store. Mr. Ferris then will lease the property back from Mr. Lundy under the plan.

Ideally, Mr. Ferris said, workers will break ground on the Big Apple store in the spring and complete the project by early fall. He said he looks forward to working with Mr. Lundy to attract future developers to the site. In addition to retailers that will be located along Route 11, a large parcel behind that area could include a number of large projects. Possibilities include a big box store, condominiums or a two-story lifestyle center including a combination of retail space and apartments.

“The town wanted to make sure it’s building its tax base to its full potential,” Mr. Ferris said. “By teaming up together, this property will be worth a lot. It already has an intersection with a light like where the Walmart is.”

-Ted Booker, Watertown Daily Times staff writer