Ryley O’Connor’s plans to build an auto repair shop on High Falls Road drew opposition, but also some defense at a public hearing at the Saugerties Town Planning Board meeting on Tuesday, May 17. O’Connor plans to build an auto repair shop on High Falls Road and move his business there from the shop where he now works on Route 32 and Harry Wells Road. Several neighbors said that the business would bring noise, traffic and a large, unsightly building to their peaceful.
The proposed building is 60 feet wide by 125 feet long with a 20-by-30-foot extension for office space, engineer Richard Rothe said. “This is an existing business, which is on the corner of Route 32 and Harry Wells Trail.” O’Connor rents the building, and he wants to have his own building, Rothe said. “He wants to offer the same type of services he offers now, which is repairing all types of vehicles.”
In describing the project, Rothe said that he met RyleyO’Connor about 10 or 12 years ago when the brakes on his trailer stuck. As he tried to break them loose unsuccessfully, “the next thing I knew, this kid is coming across with a sledgehammer in his hands; he crawls under my trailer, starts banging the brakes, and frees up the brakes for me. I didn’t know him at the time. I came out and thanked him. Since then, I’ve gotten to know him very well. At that time, he was in his early 20s.” O’Connor was then working for Montano’s and had a small business on the side, Rothe said, “and he said to me, ‘I would like to start my own business, but there are a lot of people discouraging me.’ I could tell by his work ethic and drive that he would be successful no matter what he wanted to do.” Rothe advised him to go ahead with his business.
Pat Melville said that the business Ryley owns on Route 32 “does not belong in this neighborhood. And I’m sure none of you people would let it get put next to your house. I don’t understand with the zoning that he could put a building like that in that spot.” The project would “knock the value of my property into the garbage can,” he said. He also said that he is concerned that the lighting on another nearby building glared and was disturbing. Rothe replied that the proposed lighting on O’Connor’s business is shielded to direct the light downward, and that the area is zoned for the type of business he is proposing. When you buy property, you should be aware of the zoning in the area “and the uses that are allowed in that zone.”
Melville said that the zoning was different when he bought his property, and it was changed without notifying him. It was highway commercial, which Rothe pointed out allowed the kind of business O’Connor was proposing, but Melville insisted that there were more restrictions on the business under the old zoning. He said people on High Falls Road could expect to see a messy building and junked cars, similar to O’Connor’s existing business on Route 32. “Everyone on the road is furious,” he said. “Will we get a tax reduction?”
Another neighbor, who identified herself only as Toni, said that she had similar concerns. Having seen the existing shop, she said, “I would be mortified to have someone even to come at my house.” The road is narrow, and the turn onto it is dangerous, Toni said; a repair shop would increase the traffic and make the road more dangerous.
Joe Puma, who lives on Route 32 near O’Connor’s existing shop, said that, while he feels for the neighbors who are concerned, “I am more concerned about America and the people of Saugerties myself. That young man has built a business that we all can be proud of. He is trying to establish a business to provide for our neighborhood here.” O’Connor, he said, is doing something more young people should be doing: starting a business that serves people. “We should support somebody like this. There’s nobody better than him to show what Saugerties is all about, building a business and providing for the neighborhood. Shame on us if we don’t do that.”
Puma’s opinion was not shared by the neighbors who spoke. Bob Melville said that the building would block neighbors’ views and reduce property values. Like several others, he argued that his taxes should be reduced because the value of his property would be reduced if the proposed repair business was built. “Now as we enter our retirement years, we’re going to have to listen to air compressors and trucks and banging.”
Several people asked if O’Connor was present at the meeting. He identified himself, and said that the shop “would not look terrible.” He acknowledged that a building doesn’t look good as it’s being built, but “We will do our best to make it look as good as possible, and I guarantee it will look a lot nicer than most of High Falls Road.”
Neighbors immediately began contradicting him, bringing up noise and traffic as concerns. O’Connor responded that he will be close to Route 32, “so most of the road won’t notice the traffic.”
Planning Board chair Howard Post stepped in: “This is a public hearing, and the Planning Board is trying to take comments from the public so we can consider your comments while we look at this application. It’s turning into an argument, and we’re not going to have that.”
Joe Cimorelli noted that Steyer’s Garage is in a residential area, “so how is this any different?”
Melville countered that Steyer’s has been in its location for a long time, and that the nearby houses were built after it was already there. A metal building is ugly, he said.
Puma thanked the Board for hearing opinions, and said that he is trying to follow the rules and wait to be recognized before speaking. He reiterated that O’Connor is trying to establish a business that will benefit all people in the area. He suggested that if people had a problem with O’Connor’s plans, they should speak to him. “I’m sure he would pay attention to your needs,” Puma said, adding that he has seen some of the trailers on High Falls Road, and “His building will look much better than that.”
Another speaker admonished Puma for his description of mobile homes that he has seen; she denied that people were attacking Ryley O’Connor; but rather were criticizing his business.
The Board was on the verge of closing the public hearing, but planning consultant Adriana Beltrani suggested that, unless the applicant was sure he could get all the outstanding questions answered, it could make sense to keep it open. The Board voted to keep the hearing open.
Rothe objected, saying there were not many outstanding comments, and that everything had been addressed. Beltrani said that a number of items still need to be addressed, including landscaping, lighting, stormwater, parking and a number of operational questions.
Post said that, in the light of the list of open questions, it might make sense to keep the public hearing open; Roth repeated his disagreement with that suggestion. A poll of the Board showed a clear majority in favor of keeping the hearing open.
Planning Board secretary Becky Bertorelli said that the Senior Citizens’ Center would not be available on the Board’s regular meeting night next month; the date of the meeting will be changed, and interested people should check the Town website to get the correct date.