Watkins Glen votes against variance

Plans to build a three-story, 41-room Best Western hotel in Watkins Glen were dealt a major setback Sept. 14 when the Schuyler County Planning Commission voted 10-2 against a set of requested zoning variances crucial to the project.

The new chain hotel was to have replaced the 16-room Seneca Clipper Inn at the intersection of S. Franklin Street (Route 14) and South Avenue.

The commission refused to approve variances from local zoning law sought by Bharat Patel for building height, required parking and setbacks from streets and adjoining properties.
Patel, owner and operator of the Seneca Clipper, and his wife, Neela Patel, expressed surprise and vented anger at commission members and to a reporter immediately after the vote.

They scoffed at a resident's suggestion that they might as an alternative consider remodeling and modestly expanding the Seneca Clipper while keeping its 1950s retro style.

"They say they want to leave it an antique town, but our tourists are running away to other towns," Neela Patel said in an interview shortly after the vote. "(Tourists) are just coming here to visit the State Park and then they're running away. Even the racers ...."

The Patels said most visitors want the sort of amenities provided by the Harbor Hotel or a modern hotel chain like Best Western, not quaint throwbacks that may be more pleasing to local residents.

When Gov. Cuomo recently awarded the village of Watkins Glen a $10 million grant for revitalization he intended for developers to look forward, not backward, they insisted.

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