Public opposition to a proposed used car sales and storage lot at 454 Hurley Avenue dominated a public hearing during an Ulster Town Board meeting last week, with area residents concerned about potential repercussions for their neighborhood.
Moe’s Motor Cars has been brought to the town for review by Mohammad Waheed, who was not in attendance during the hearing held on Thursday, December 16. Moe’s would be located on a 44,500-square foot lot that previously held the Empire Mart and Deli, which was decimated by a fire in February 2013. The lot is next to the former John A. Coleman Catholic High School.
During the public hearing, Town Attorney Jason Kovacs explained that Waheed was presently before the town’s Planning Board and Zoning Board
“This is a use allowed in that zoning district subject to a special permit of this board,” Kovacs said. Several neighbors of the property asked that the town not grant that permit, including David Olson.
“What is the real benefit of this project to the community?” Olson asked. “I talked to a lot of people…and I have not found one person that’s in favor of it…(Waheed) has admitted in the Planning Board meetings that he won’t be spending much time there. So it’s gonna be basically a used car lot behind fences, just sitting there…with no community benefit whatsoever to this area.”
Holly Christiana said she didn’t believe Moe’s Motor Cars should be called a car lot as it is primarily intended for use as a storage area for cars, she said, Waheed will be selling online.
“When I think of a used car lot, I think of a place that’s relatively pleasant where one goes and purchases a car,” Christiana said. “This is much more akin to a junkyard…What makes it a junkyard? One, there’s not really a business being run there. There’s more a pickup spot there. There’s not going to be people in and out…The fence is an actual junkyard fence. There’s no lighting. I’m really baffled why it’s even in the running.”
Keith Mack said he’d collected over 110 signatures on a petition opposing Moe’s Motor Cars, and like other speakers during the public hearing said he didn’t believe there would be any benefit to the community given the largely remote nature of the business. Mack said that 100 percent of the neighbors closest to the lot opposed the project, and “better than 98 percent” of the residents in nearby housing development Rolling Meadows felt similarly.
“What is the benefit to the community with this business that does not provide any new jobs, does not provide any direct service for the residents like a convenience store would?” Mack asked. “It certainly doesn’t improve the aesthetics of the neighborhood with the proposed construction trailer as an office. I’d be willing to bet that no members of this board or any other board would want this business next to their house.”
Mack added that it was unclear whether sales tax would be collected locally.
“What mechanism is in place to assure that sales tax revenue is collected here and not where the computer being used is located?” he asked.
“The boards and committees of this town exist to represent the residents of this town and protect their interests and the character of our communities — the Town Board in particular, being elected by the residents that uphold these responsibilities,” Mack said. “Seeing as there is such an overwhelming number of local residents opposed to this project, I believe that it is this Board’s responsibility to support their constituents and reject the application for a special use unit from someone who does not even reside in the area.”
The pastors from a pair of neighboring churches also spoke out against the project, including Pastor Pete Shults of Cross Point Fellowship at 459 Hurley Avenue, who said he had a good relationship with Waheed and was “committed to being a good neighbor and honestly, to being a blessing to him if he moves in there.” But Shults said Waheed had told him “on multiple occasions” that he’s conveyed the pastor’s support for the project to town officials and said “it is unequivocally not true.”
“We are not supportive of the variances that he’s requesting at all, and we would ask that any variances that he’s seeking for the higher fences or moving the fences closer to the road, be denied,” Shults said. “We’re going to be very respectful of your decisions. We’re going to do our best to be a blessing to him over time. But these requests that he’s making we think are an atrocity for the community that we all live in.”
The Rev. Henry Albrechtsen of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church at 470 Hurley Avenue said his congregation had been concerned about the proposed car lot for some time.
“If there is a tremendous amount of traffic and noise, it disturbs our Sunday morning worship, particularly in the summer when the windows are going to be open, no less any fumes that we might have as wind shifts from this lot onto our property,” Albrechtsen said. “The second thing is the fencing.” Albrechtsen said the proposed fencing might not only be an eyesore. “I’m a New York boy born in bred in Manhattan,” he said. “You put up an eight-foot fence, what are you doing behind it?…I’m just skeptical about what activity is going on behind this. And if you’re going to put up a fence…it is going to be unattractive in that case (and) it needs to be landscaped or in some way made un-ugly, if that’s entirely possible.”
The Town Board left the public hearing open until its next meeting, scheduled for Thursday, January 6.