By CRAIG FREILICH
POTSDAM – Village trustees voted Monday night to change the zoning at the First Presbyterian Church so that Trillium Center for Yoga and Health can move there.
The rezoning will change the church property at 43 Elm St. from residential R-1 to “Innovation District,” or ID, so that the yoga center can move from 25 Market St., where it opened in August 2015 offering classes and workshops in a variety of yoga and related styles, to the church center, where they will have more room and lower rent.
Trillium partner Terry de la Vega explained that the business is not intended as a big commercial money-maker but rather to be “supportive of people who want to pursue a spiritual path.”
De la Vega said she feels bad about all the empty business spaces downtown, but that she and her two partners “can’t afford the rent downtown, and there’s not a space big enough downtown.”
“The church has a lot of space that isn’t being used,” she said.
During the hearing before the vote on the local law to change the zoning, there was opposition to the change. who feared a continuation of a commercialization trend in the neighborhood.
One woman was afraid of “zoning creep” and the possibility that other businesses might find a way into the residential area, lowering the value of her property at 54 Elm St. Louann Lang said she wondered if fraternities could apply for a zoning change, and was concerned about signs for the center and parking.
De la Vega said there would be a sign, “a nice one,” and that her business will not be drawing masses of people at any one time, so parking there should not be a problem.
Lang said zoning changes like this one can lower property values “and drive people out of the village.”
“It’s time to walk back some of the zoning mistakes of the past and not make any new ones,” she said.
Eleanor Rosenthal of Chestnut Street was concerned about the precedent the change could make. “How do we know what kind of business other churches would want to bring in?” she said.
Norbert Ackerman of 56 Elm St. called into question the use of the Innovation District designation, saying that the ID zone was never intended to help struggling businesses but rather to foster innovative technology.
Mayor Ron Tischler and trustees Steve Warr and Nick Sheehan voted to approve the local law change; Trustee Eleanor Hopke abstained, as she is a member of the church, she said.
The change will go in effect when the state Department of State records it.
The Innovation Center zoning designation was initially adopted in Potsdam for Clarkson University’s old downtown campus buildings along Main and Elm streets across from the Civic Center, where a variety of development efforts will be permitted.
The First Presbyterian Church of Potsdam and Presbyterian Center are adjacent to the old Clarkson campus.