At the August 22 meeting of the Gardiner Planning Board, the business collective known as Full Circle, LLC received conditional approval of its amended site plan to build an agribusiness hub (https://hudsonvalleyone.com/2023/01/04/gardiner-sets-public-hearing-for-full-circle-development-stressing-its-a-hamlet-not-a-mall) at Benton Corners. Final approval is expected at the board’s September meeting, following receipt of an architectural treatment depicting what board member Keith Libolt described as “minor field amendments” already agreed to by the primary applicant, Mike Benevento. Benevento is the owner of the landscape design company Hudson Valley Trailworks; his partners in the venture include Flour + Joy Bakery, Gatehouse Greens, Melissa & Greg Gagne (of the Grazery in New Paltz) and Jaime Reynolds Studio.
The amendments to the site plan that the Planning Board had requested, following a public hearing earlier this year, mainly concerned the alignments of the proposed buildings on the undeveloped 4.78-acre lot, located on the northeast corner, across Route 44/55 from Lombardi’s Italian Restaurant. Full Circle was originally envisioned as a business complex made up of a 4,720-square-foot main building housing a service business, retail space and a bakery, clustered with a separate 1,120-square-foot farm store, a 600-square-foot coffeehouse and a 600-square-foot greenhouse for growing microgreens, with a plaza in the middle. The site would also become home to two small freestanding offices intended for wellness services, plus a separate bathroom building to serve them, and an 820-square-foot storage structure for equipment used by Hudson Valley Trailworks.
Following the Planning Board’s input, Full Circle, LLC adjusted the proposed locations of the buildings intended as the coffeehouse and greenhouse, and also relocated the bathrooms to make them more convenient for bakery patrons, Benevento explained. The greenhouse will have a “slight increase in size” as well, to 21-by-31 feet, because they will be using a kit for construction. “The greenhouse was originally oriented north/south, but the occupants would rather have it facing the courtyard – more in line with 44/55,” said Benevento, adding that the coffeehouse will now also have its longer axis toward the main road.
The realignment drew some concern about aesthetics from two board members. “I’d like to see this look like a false front, so when you drive by it doesn’t look like a blank wall,” Keith Libolt suggested. Rob Boettcher noted that a greenhouse would show glass from any side, but agreed with Libolt that the coffeeshop wall facing 44/55 shouldn’t look like “the back of the building.” Planning Board vice-chair Ralph Varano – standing in as chair for Paul Colucci, who had recused himself – pointed out that the view from the road would be “somewhat buffered by the berm and the growth on top of the berm.” Benevento agreed to provide updated elevations depicting the tweaked architectural treatments recommended by the board in time for a vote at its September 26 meeting.
The proposal first submitted to the Town in November 2022 drew public attention on account of the fact that traffic is already busy – and notoriously dangerous – at the intersection of Route 44/55 and Bruynswick Road (County Route 7), which merges with Albany Post Road heading north. A curve in the road obscures the view of the intersection for vehicles heading eastward on 44/55, which also tend to pick up speed on their way downhill from the Gunks. A countywide Road Safety Analysis study in April 2021 designated the intersection as the most dangerous two-lane rural road junction in all of Ulster County.
There were two fatal collisions at Benton Corners in 2020 and another one in 2021, inspiring public outcry calling for reductions in the speed limit and traffic signals to be installed at the intersection. A post on the Gardiner NY Facebook page on June 24, 2023 (www.facebook.com/groups/185251975716/search/?q=accident%2044%2F55) showed photos of yet another serious accident, with two totaled cars spun off onto the lawn in front of the BaseCamp building on the northwest corner.
After much lobbying by Town of Gardiner officials and the Ulster County Transportation Council, the New York State Department of Transportation agreed to expedite the process of installing a stoplight at the intersection, but the state process is glacially slow. In March 2022, flashing signals indicating stop signs ahead were installed on Route 44/55, just before the Bruynswick Road intersection, as an interim measure. As of the latest update from NYS-DOT, the traffic light installation project has finally been contracted out, its current status listed as Under Construction. The bids were opened on July 27, 2023 and the contract awarded to an unidentified bidder on August 15.
That doesn’t mean that the construction is about to begin, however. The awardee of the $380,403 contract is required to complete all work and vacate the right-of-way no later than October 10 of next year, with an Estimated Substantial Completion Date – defined as “the day the public (including vehicles and pedestrians) has full and unrestricted use and benefit of the facilities both from the operational and safety standpoint” – of September 10, 2024. The latest project status update can be viewed online at www.dot.ny.gov/portal/pls/portal/MEXIS_APP.DYN_PROJECT_DETAILS.show?p_arg_names=p_pin&p_arg_values=814168.
So, it would appear that construction of the Full Circle agribusiness cluster will be getting underway without a red light to help calm passing traffic. With luck, they won’t need to clear away any auto wrecks from their property. To learn more about the plans for Full Circle, visit www.fullcircleshop.one.