A proposal to open a new Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union (HVFCU) branch at the site of the shuttered College Diner on State Route 299 in New Paltz took another step forward last Monday. The town’s planning board granting the financial institution several waivers from provisions in the town’s zoning code.
Chief among the requests was a waiver to offer a detached drive-through behind the 4000-square-foot branch on the 2.1-acre site. Credit union officials say drive-up service represents a make-or-break offering.
The board voted unanimously to grant the request
Charlie Thompson, representing Hvfcu at the virtual meeting, said the credit union simply could not serve their members without a drive-up, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Thompson recalled the early days of the pandemic when the credit union shut the doors of its branches and only conducted business through the drive-up. “We’re servicing our members, and the drive-up offers convenience and handicap accessibility,” he said.
He told the board it would be impossible for a financial institution to offer the kind of carside service now commonly found at fast-food eateries like McDonald’s because of safety for the employees and the inability to ensure such transactions were under camera review.
Roger Keating of LaBella Associates also represented the credit union during the meeting. In asking for the waiver for the drive-up, he noted that most area banks, if not all of them, provide drive-up services at almost every branch. “A lot of members use the drive-through, particularly during the pandemic,” Keating said. “It provided access to members’ money and financial services. They could talk to a teller. And the elderly have difficulty getting out of the car.”
Keating said the driveup is a vital component. “They’d have a hard time constructing the branch without a drive-through. It’d put them at a competitive disadvantage.”
The credit union was also granted a waiver from a requirement that the branch be set ten feet back from the sidewalk. The siting is an attempt to create more of a traditional main street as opposed to suburban vibe along the busy Route 299 corridor.
The New York State Department of Transportation maintains a right-of-way easement that extends 90 feet out from the south side of the highway and a shared-use path on that side that is part of the Empire State Trail on that side. On the South Ohioville Road side of the property, the credit union can follow the setback rule and provide a sidewalk along the length of the property, Keating said. Vehicle access from South Ohioville Road would be restricted to one curb cutoff instead of the current free-for-all with no curb cut.
While board member Lyle Nolan said he didn’t object to the credit union not providing a sidewalk and instead using the pedestrian trail. But he questioned what would happen if the state were to widen the road and remove the rail-trail. “We have to protect that in the future it will still have a sidewalk,” Nolan said.
Thompson said the credit union would make adjustments to ensure a sidewalk should DOT make changes to the routing of the rail trail or decide to remove it.
Because the branch will only have one parking aisle, the board also granted it a waiver from the requirement for a walkway between parking aisles. Keating said such a provision would require an encroachment back into wetland areas.
He said the branch will offer bicycle storage and pedestrian access from the rail trail.
Board member Amy Cohen felt feel further connections were necessary since the credit union was making its landscaping bike-friendly, Board member Amanda Gotto said she felt the plan gave pedestrians and bicyclists good access to both the branch and the ATM.
Lastly, the board granted the credit union a waiver from a requirement to offer shared access to neighboring properties. It’s located on a corner and is bounded by wetlands on one side and a single-family home on the other.
Keating said it would be counterproductive to offer access to either area since neither is a commercial property. The board agreed and quickly granted the request.
Board member Jane Schanberg urged Hvfcu to consider solar panels for the branch. “I feel it’s so important with new construction,” she said. She acknowledged there was no such requirement in the zoning code. “It’s up to you,” she said.
While the HVFCU doesn’t have solar panels on any of its buildings, Thompson said it would look into the idea. “It’s important for a credit union to be a community institution.”
Thompson said the building will be far more energy-efficient than in years past.
Gotto too urged consideration of the panels. “It would set you apart and it’d be a big hurrah,” she said.
Ruger said the board still had a number of issues the credit union needs to work through, particularly the driveway entrances from Route 299.
Keating said engineers are trying to work on provisions that would limit drivers to right turns to either enter and exit the site or exit it only. The bike lane is a complication. He feared bicyclists could nose against the curb and crash.
Keating said he’s even resorted to a FOIL request for the design of the bikeway from the DOT. “Not a lot of rail-trails interact with driveways,” he noted.
Ruger said Route 299 was dangerous to anyone making a right turn, That needed to be considered in the design of the access to the credit union branch.
The discussion then turned to South Ohioville Road. Nolan was concerned that cars waiting to turn left out of the credit union onto state Route 299 would stack up at the stop light. Board attorney Rick Golden wanted a study of the traffic situation at the intersection. He recommended that the board do a traffic study, with special attention paid to stacking of cars at the light.
Cohen wanted the developer to talk to DOT, get the traffic studies in place, and work with a traffic engineer.
Board member Matthew DiDonna wanted thr\e study to include the impact of cars turning in and out of the gas station at the intersection. He felt the financial institution might add to traffic congestion at some times.
In other tweaks to the site, Keating said he’s also talked with credit union officials about reducing the size of the dumpster. The credit union mostly recycles its waste and could use residential-style totes for the trash, he said. It is also tweaking its lighting plan to better light the driveway and especially the ATM area.
Hvfcu has almost 300,000 members, six billion dollars in assets, and as of March 2021 more than 800 employees. Headquartered in Poughkeepsie, it currently has 20 branch locations, including those in Highland and Kingston.