Should the developers of a proposed store on Railroad and Ulster avenues be responsible for developing and paying for new traffic controls in the commercial district containing a major shopping plaza and a number of smaller stores?
During a discussion of the application for site plan approval of an AutoZone store near the intersection at the regular meeting of the village planning board on July 10, developer John Joseph’s attorney, Michael Moriello, asked that question. Should the store applicant be responsible for getting the railroad to install a flashing sign at the crossing of the intersection of Ulster Avenue?
AutoZone’s plan calls for a 64-foot-by-115- foot building (7360 square feet). The potential for increased traffic in a busy area has aroused controversy. Developer John Joseph has argued that nearby buildings, including those somewhat smaller than his proposed store, appear bigger because of their position and immediate proximity to other stores. The Saugerties Plaza shopping center is a short distance west of the proposed site.
Traffic, in particular the turn into the center from Ulster Avenue, is a concern, The truck exit onto Railroad Avenue has also been mentioned. The signage, the height of the electric wires along the corridor, and the difficulty trucks might have making a left turn into the shopping center have all concerned the village planners and the county planning board as well.
The July 10 meeting was a continuation of a public hearing that began the month before. One speaker was present to give her opinion. Robin Goss asked that the board deny the project a variance because its lot size is less than required. The zoning board had already granted the variance, planning board chairman Mary Leahy said. “If there is any way you can avoid having a big-box AutoZone that does nothing for our community …. They’re just going to come in with this gross architecture,” said Goss. “It does nothing for our community except maybe taxes. I’m just appalled.” Engineer Bruce Utter said he has gone through AutoZone’s responses to the questions he had raised about the design. The developer had addressed all Utter’s concerns about the water and the sewer lines. They had gone through the grading plan and answered his questions about the sidewalks and the curbing.
The applicant would have to work with his contractor to deal with the low-hanging utility lines near the entrances, Utter said. The contractor will be responsible for notifying the utility company.
Philip Greeley of Maser Consulting discussed an analysis of traffic patterns that would be affected by the project. “The practice is to base it on the Institute of Traffic Engineers traffic data, which the applicant did,” he said. “We confirmed it with additional evaluation of an existing AutoZone free-standing facility to see if there was a variation from the ITE data. On weekdays there was no variation. On Saturday the ITE data is somewhat limited, so the applicant had made some projections. We found slightly higher volumes on Saturdays, but not drastically.”
The consultants found an average of 20 to 25 Saturday trips per hour entering and the same leaving during the peak period, he explained. “So you’re looking at one car every two minutes coming in, and the same going out.”
Based on previous traffic studies, the applicants had trimmed foliage, shifted signs, and done other work to improve visual access, Greeley said. There has also been restriping on the road to provide a left-turn lane into the property. The project traffic control has been approved in concept by the New York State Department of Transportation, he said. The consultant recommended several additional improvements to enhance the safety of the intersection.
The accident rate at the nearby railroad crossing is affected by the curve just past Big Lots store, Greeley said. Traffic at that point is coming off the Thruway. The crossing comes up unexpectedly. There is some signage, but it is hidden
Further discussion included recommendations for additional signage at the railway crossing.
Leahy questioned whether the left turn into the store would be safe. With a left turn lane it would be, Greeley felt, though he acknowledged that a customer “might have to wait.”With the volume of traffic the study showed, however, the wait would probably not be long.
Board member Scott Roeber said that the question he had raised at previous meetings – the safety of a left turn out of the driveway – seemed to have been addressed.
Leahy noted that one complication for landscaping and signage is that part of the project lies outside the village boundaries in the town. Joseph assured her that the town board does not have a problem with his plans. Some of the improvements being proposed would have to be undertaken by the railroad, Joseph said. “To the extent that it is within my control, I’ll do it,” he said. “But if it’s something that the railroad needs to do, or the DOT needs to do, those things are outside of my control.”
His attempts to contact the railroad have not been successful, he claimed. They don’t return calls, he said.
Joseph’s attorney Michael Moriello questioned whether recommendations for improvements to safety could be extrapolated into conditions for one applicant. The suggested recommendation would be a Saugerites-wide study, he said. “I don’t think it’s proper to put that kind of a recommendation as a condition of approval for one applicant.”
Leahy replied that the project underscored the need for improvement, and “this is the only applicant before us.”
If that was the board’s position, every applicant for approval would have to wait for these things to happen, Moriello argued. He questioned whether Greeley’s recommendations were meant to apply only to Joseph, or whether they were general recommendations for improvement.
To the extent that Joseph could accomplish the recommendations without the railroad’s cooperation, Greeley responded, he should do so. A continuously flashing warning light could be installed without permission from the railroad. Such lights would be a good idea to the extent that accidents happen at the crossing even when the gates are up.
The board voted to keep the public hearing open. Mike Karashay voted against the proposal.