Lagusta Yearwood argues that an environmental impact statement is needed for the proposed CVS/Five Guys project in New Paltz, if only because of the waivers being requested, including one to ignore a requirement to identify all trees on the property twelve or more inches in diameter. No vote on the CVS EIS was taken at the town planning board meeting last Wednesday.
This is a project which would transform the lot nestled between the Thruway and North Putt Corners Road. Preparing this long, narrow and sloped site (southwest and across the street from Freihofer’s Bakery Outlet) for a 13,225 square-foot CVS and a 2,600-square-foot Five Guys restaurant is estimated to involve removing hundreds of trees and carting in 1,600 tri-axle trucks of fill to level off the property.
At earlier meetings, the applicant’s attorney, Charles Bazydlo, said that he believed that the waiver was appropriate because all the trees would be removed to make way for the massive amount of fill to be brought into the property.
Fill was an area of focus during the continuing application review at the September 26 meeting of the town’s planning board. Some board members have pressed for alternatives requiring less fill.
Landscape architect Justin Dates was on hand to provide input for the applicant. Consultants have been resisting the idea of lowering the level, pointing out that the stormwater retention system will be embedded in that fill. A retail location lower than street level is also seen as less visible to drivers. Nevertheless, some alternatives showing reductions of one and three feet were provided. Neither would seem to do much to reduce the area of disturbance.
The project location (address approximate based on a dropped pin in Google Maps)
The traffic study continues to be controversial, too. Resident David Porter called the applicant’s study “sloppy, evasive, and it demands that the planning board simply trust CVS” during public comment. He suggested the study needs additional data, including lane-by-lane level-of-service analysis and projections including the proposed Wildberry Lodge and the Cherry Hill intersection. Dates stoutly disagreed, saying the scope of the traffic study was not narrow at all.
“The larger issue is the fox guarding the henhouse,” opined board member Yearwood. She considered the lack of sufficient independent review of these studies a lack of due diligence on the part of the planning board.
The firm Creighton Manning, which has reviewed the applicant’s studies, has also done work on other CVS projects, said Yearwood. She was not the only person to raise questions about traffic engineer Ken Wersted’s ability to remain independent under the circumstances. Many people have questioned the findings of the town’s wetlands inspector, Norbert Quenzer, Yearwood also said.
Amy Cohen wanted more robust traffic data. “I would expect more data collection in an in-depth study, more days, more times of year,” she said. Planning board chair Mike Calimano dismissed that expectation, saying that only DOT officials perform actual traffic counts, and do so on their own schedule.
Amanda Gotto wasn’t convinced by what the DOT had done, arguing that the traffic sample had been too small to be statistically meaningful.
George Lithco, attorney for the board, attempted to explain why the engineering data before the board was sufficient. Engineer David Clouser remained silent.
The traffic mitigation plan involves upgrading the lights from Ohioville Road to the Plaza Diner to synchronize them, allowing for traffic to move more smoothly. Board vice-chair Lyle Nolan observed that the biggest backup of vehicular traffic resulted from the uncontrolled crosswalks downtown, such as the one at Plattekill Avenue. The traffic study does not refer to the level of service for pedestrians.
Calimano hopes that a vote on this project’s environmental significance — which will determine what kind of EIS is required — will occur at the October 24 meeting.