Car washes are prohibited in the general business district and the aquifer protection overlay district along Route 32 in Saugerties, but Denier Car Wash is seeking a zoning change to allow a specific type of car wash in the zone.
Engineer Scott Ouimet presented the proposal from Duncan Properties LLC/Denier Car Wash at a public hearing at a Town of Saugerties Planning Board meeting on Tuesday, May 17. Denier Car Wash is seeking changes in the business district to allow car washes, and to amend the aquifer protection overlay district to prohibit self-service motor vehicle washing, polishing or cleaning facilities such as car washes that have surface or groundwater discharges. Zero-discharge car washes would be allowed in the zone, Ouimet said. These car washes reclaim the used water, preventing it from contaminating groundwater; the Denier Car Wash would contain wastewater in tanks until removal to a wastewater facility.
Speakers at the hearing raised concerns about possible damage to the aquifer, and one Board member emphasized that creating a zone to protect the aquifer was done specifically to avoid the possible damage a leak from a car wash could do. One speaker noted that Randy Richers is a partner in the car wash and also a partner in the Winston Farm development, and speculated that Winston Farm could benefit from the proposed changes in the aquifer overlay zone.
The proposed zone change would allow “zero-discharge car wash facilities or facilities with municipal sewers,” Ouimet said. “One thing I want to point out is that working with this Planning Board over the last year, we have made significant improvements in our proposal for the aquifer protection overlay zone. When we first came before the Board a year ago, we were just asking that it be an allowed use. We amended that to remove it from the list of prohibited uses and are now only seeking to allow a zero-discharge facility or a municipal sewer connection.”
A commercial car wash that has zero discharge and uses less water than a conventional car wash “offers greater protection than if someone were to wash their car with a bucket of water, where all the runoff goes into the ground, into the aquifer,” Ouimet said.
Among the strict provisions for aquifer protection is a requirement that car wash facilities use double-walled tanks, so that if one wall is breached, the aquifer is still protected from runoff. The wastewater storage would also include an alarm system to alert the operator if any breach occurs, allowing the system to be shut down while a single wall still prevents wastewater runoff.
The facility proposed by Denier Car Wash includes two car wash bays and two vacuuming stations, Olmert said. The plan also calls for landscaping, including plantings.
Joe Hudson started the public comment part of the hearing, saying he is concerned about a potential water shortage in the near future. “We get our water from the Reservoir; we have a limit of 1.8 million gallons per day. The 2020 aquifer protection study indicates that at peak usage we use 1.6 million gallons, so with future development, we’re going to need a lot more water,” he said. The aquifer under the proposed car wash, called the Beaverkill Aquifer, has the potential to produce one million gallons per day, he said. The aquifer could be developed as a secondary water source for the Town, “and for this reason, we should not monkey around with the aquifer protection zone.”
Hudson noted that the area around the existing Reservoir is kept pristine. Car washes are notoriously difficult to keep from polluting ground water, he said. He opposed a zoning change, asserting that “zoning is a tool we have to protect the interest of the many from the few.”
Marjory Greenberg-Vaughn questioned “the fact that this is even being considered, when at the last meeting Scott assured us in one breath that this container would never leak, then said, ‘But if it does.’ There is no way to guarantee that nothing adverse to the aquifer and the environment will occur.” If the aquifer is damaged, the many people who depend on it would suffer and the value of all property in the town would plummet, she said. “Who would buy your house and bathe their children with polluted water?”
Andy Cowan said that the effort to place the car wash seemed disproportionate to the benefit to the operator. The proposed project compromises the aquifer and the local wells, including his. Cowan referred to a leak that had occurred near the Howard Johnson motel, forcing it to use bottled water and taking a long time for remediation.
Running through the protections being proposed for the car wash — double-walled tanks, automatic shutoff, a warning system — there seems to be a lot of equipment for a two-lane car wash, Cowan said. He speculated that “if the Town Board were to change the zoning on a small part of the proposed area — for instance, just around the proposed car wash with a small buffer, say 500 feet by 500 feet — and no changes were made to the sensitive aquifer, would the car wash proceed under that scenario? I expect it wouldn’t, because I think there is some linkage, either intentional or planned or posed, between the zoning on this site and the bigger picture: the development of Winston Farm that encompasses 800 acres and would be impacted by this zoning relief.” One of the “principals” in the Winston Farm proposal is a partner in the car wash, Cowan said he had heard. “So, there is a connection that is not explicit; in fact, it’s been kept quiet.”
John Denier, a partner in the project, said that Richers has an interest in several businesses. He denied that any attempt had been made to hide any aspect of the proposed car wash. “We have been totally up front with the Planning Board and the Planning Board members,” he said. “There is no connection to the Winston Farm property. Randy [Richers] is a partner in the Winston Farm property, but we have been at this project for over a year. Randy and I have been childhood friends since the fourth grade. He has acquired property along that strip; that’s where we own property, so that’s where we want to have the business.”
Richers has kept a low profile on the car wash development because he is putting in a lot of time on the Winston Farm project, and he owns several other businesses, Denier said. The developers believe that business is good for the community, and “We are not trying to do anything underhanded here.” Denier said he understands that people are passionate about the issue of Winston Farm, and that he doesn’t believe he can change everyone’s opinion. “I don’t want to target anyone; that’s not the purpose of this call. The purpose is to share our plans and to address opinions, but the Planning Board should get every point of view; that will help guide it to make a decision.”
Ouimet, the engineer on the project, said he wanted to address the safety issue. He described zero-emission facilities in Suffolk County, which use concrete tanks to store wastewater. “We go above and beyond, with double-walled steel tanks and leak detectors between the two layers. If anything leaks, the system would shut down and we could replace the tank before anything would leak into the atmosphere.”
Cowan asked why the specific location was chosen for the car wash. Denier agreed that they could have located the car wash somewhere else, “but we own the property there, we have done traffic studies there, and a number of individuals who have been advocates for it say it’s a great location.”
“I understand you own the property, but the zoning is still there,” Cowan said, noting that, just because he owns a piece of property, he can’t put a heliport there. Likewise, the zoning doesn’t allow car washes over an aquifer.
Greenberg-Vaughn said that her house dates from 1740, “and we have always been spring-fed.” Many other homes in the area also depend on springs, and they claim that they would face a serious risk of losing their water source if the aquifer were damaged. “You own this property? Sell the property and buy somewhere else, where you would not need a change in zoning. The zoning has specifically put there to protect this community’s water source,” she said.
Gene O’Donovan said that “When these people purchased this property, they knew the zoning on the property, just like we knew the zoning on our property when we bought it. You buy a piece of property, you know what it’s zoned for; why go beyond that? Why go for something that is so potentially dangerous? The rest of us play by the rules that are the zoning in this Town. What gives you guys the right to take a piece of property that when you bought it you knew what you had, and now, all of a sudden, you want to change it?”
Planning Bard responds
The Board’s planning consultant, Adriana Beltrani, said that the Board’s recommendation to the Town Board on zoning for the area should include the whole zone, not just the specific site of the project. The Planning Board is the lead agency for the State Environmental Quality Review of the project.
Planning Board member Bob Hlavaty suggested that the capacity of emergency storage tanks should be increased from two days of water supply to three. He also asked that the language be tight and cover any contingencies.
Ken Goldberg said that the Town passed its first zoning law in 1989, and it was updated in 2008. Since then, there have been a number of changes proposed, and the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals have each submitted proposed changes. “What I would recommend that the Planning Board do is to not submit a recommended change to the zoning law, and instead add it to the list of other suggested changes, all to be considered as a whole and taken all together the next time a full review of the zoning law is undertaken.” The proposed change “is not just a tweaking of the zoning law,” Goldberg said. “It is a major change with potentially serious consequences and needs to be considered as part of a whole review, not just by itself.
Goldberg said that the 2021 Comprehensive Plan emphasized the importance of protecting fresh water resources, and to develop land use patterns that would protect water resources. One of the changes that was made between the 1989 zoning law and the 2008 update was that the number of zones in which car washes are permitted was reduced from two to one: highway business. Second, “The list of businesses that were absolutely prohibited in the aquifer protection zone was increased from 10 to 21 and explicitly included car washes.”
Finally, Goldberg dismissed the idea that the protective measures in the plan would eliminate the risk of failure and damage to the aquifer. While they might minimize the possibility, they could not eliminate it completely, he said. He offered some examples from history, including the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 and the Alaska Pipeline, which has sprung several leaks during its lifetime.
Goldberg noted that the owners of the property initially applied to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a variance to put a car wash on the property. They were told that they probably could not get a variance because they would not be able to prove that there was no allowed use that could be put on the property. “In order to get a car wash on that property, since they couldn’t do it the direct way, with a variance, they are asking the entire zoning law to be changed.”
Planning Board member Carole Furman said that as an engineer, she generally favored innovation. However, she said she had worked on developing landfill liners that were guaranteed not to fail, but many of them did, causing pollution of water supplies. Given the history, “I agree with Ken,” she said.
Planning Board member Mike Tiano asked for a review of the safety measures that would guarantee that the system would not keep pumping water if the containment of the wastewater were breached. Ouimet went through the system.
Board member Len Bourne said his background in construction maintenance has given him a lot experience in fixing things, and he has learned over the years that no manufactured item is guaranteed never to fail. One scenario he wanted to run by the developers: “You’ve got a guy, he’s all soaped up and all of a sudden something breaks down or shuts down. Is that guy going to drive away with soap all over his car, down the road?” Ouimet responded that while the water would be shut off, there is still water stored to finish the job.
Post said that he has been “trying to follow the science all the way along,” and that he is not sure of how he would vote.
Michael Moriello, the attorney for the developers, said that the Board would not have to make a recommendation that night. The developers would be willing to submit additional information to help the Board come to a determination, he said. “I think that would be very helpful,” Post said.
Goldberg said that the Board had been discussing this for a long time, and has received a lot of information. “I think we should decide this tonight,” he said. “I would like to move that we recommend to the Town Board that they not review this request for a change in the zoning law, and instead add it to the list of proposed zoning law changes all to be considered as a whole and taken all together the next time a full review of the zoning law is undertaken.”
Furman seconded the motion. The final vote was Furman, Goldberg and Tiano in favor, and Bourne, Post, Hlvaty and Kevin Brady voting against. The motion was defeated.
“What more do we need to know before this decision can be made by the nopers?” Furman asked. Ouimet said that he would look into the question of whether systems of this type had failed, and that he would look into it and try to get more information. “Any further information you can get to us would be helpful,” Post said.