Approval by Planning Board seems likely down the road
By Kevin E. Foley
From the Cold Spring Planning Board’s perspective the mission is straightforward: Save the post office and allow the Foodtown supermarket to expand. This means do the work necessary to fit an expanded supermarket and a new post office onto the same lot space consistent with the village building code or with reasonable variances to the code through the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA); account for the impact of increased commercial delivery and customer vehicular traffic and the need for more parking in a manner consistent with contemporary standards of traffic management and public safety as well as state and local traffic laws; and take into consideration the concerns of nearby residents who fear the impact of increased traffic and business operations on their neighborhood. The mission gets accomplished by many hours of sleeves-rolled-up deliberation by the appointed, volunteer board members in their claustrophobic conference room, in the Cold Spring Village Hall, hammering out the site-plan details with developer Gus Serroukas and his architect Mike McCormick.
But, as was clear at the latest workshop meeting of the board, the residents who live behind Foodtown Plaza, especially on Benedict Road and Marion Avenue, are prepared to reject the idea that the current plan as outlined serves the public interest and most especially that there is a practical, acceptable way to fit the enlarged operation into the existing space without harmful consequences for their lifestyle, not to mention violations of village code. According to four residents who showed up for the meeting on Tuesday night (Dec.13) and one who wrote a letter, they are creating a formal neighborhood association as a platform for their resistance to the otherwise likely approval of a plan to enlarge the plaza operations. The residents have been objecting to the idea for two years and expressed surprise that the idea had again gained momentum recently with yet another deadline approaching for the post office lease. They believe Serroukas has used the constant threat of no lease agreement for the post office as leverage over the planning board and village elected officials to accommodate his plans.
Although postal officials have expressed an interest in remaining in Cold Spring, this local argument is taking place just as the entire U.S. Postal Service is facing bankruptcy with debt in excess of $14 billion and no clear path to solvency. Postal officials have already proposed closing half of the service’s regional mail processing centers, which will result in slower, more expensive mail and possibly eventual cancellation of one or more days of mail delivery. Congress, which doesn’t fund post office operations but has veto power over plans, has yet to agree on a package of loans and reforms. In July of this year, the postal service released a list of 3,700 post offices being considered for closure (out of 32,000). Neither Cold Spring nor Garrison was on the list.
At the planning board’s last two workshops, which the public can attend but at which it cannot speak, members spent considerable time parsing the best parking strategies, having already accepted the general idea of moving forward with the plan to expand Foodtown and have a new post office next to the location of the present one. Members argued amongst themselves over the best approaches to allow for likely increased deliveries to an expanded Foodtown in the rear as well as finding adequate parking for postal vehicles, which the postal service insists be parked on post office property. At a previous workshop, the members had debated using an empty lot behind the post office, which Serroukas owns, for parking postal vehicles. But they moved away from it as the lot is in the residential zone and would meet stiff resistance from area residents. The current Serroukas plan doesn’t create any new parking spots in the plaza, while a couple more might be available along Chestnut Street/Route 9D if the current entrance is closed and one is opened on Benedict Road, where the exit is already located. That idea seemed to gain favor this past week. A previous idea for another curb cut on 9D to create an exit and entrance fell to the wayside when the engineering consultant to the board estimated the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) would probably take six months to approve the cut. Apparently the DOT will only take half the time to approve closing a curb cut.
Rejecting the whole idea
For the residents, trying to find fixes for delivery trucks turning around on Marion Avenue, or cars turning into Benedict Avenue just across from the Drug World Plaza, misses the larger point that the whole plan is unworkable from a safety standpoint and, in their eyes, inconsistent with existing village codes and planning for the future. “The net result … is the annexation of all entry and exit points to this neighborhood for the benefit of the Foodtown Plaza developer — effectively trapping these taxpaying residents behind a box store/supermarket complex and its parking/delivery/truck storage,” wrote Tom Campanile of Benedict Road in a letter presented to the planning board by Peter Henderson, an active opponent of the plan. Henderson was joined by Janice Hogan, another active opponent, in testily reminding board members about their safety concerns — despite the prohibition on citizen input at such sessions. Chairman Joseph Barbaro assured them they would have ample opportunity for comment at a public hearing before final plans are approved.
The board has scheduled another workshop for Jan. 10. With the residents living near the Foodtown Plaza aroused over their deliberations, the board may have to find a larger venue for the meeting.
Photos by K.E.Foley
I demonstrated a while back that it’s possible to accommodate a new 1,500 sq ft retail post office on the site, yet the post office insists they need a 3,000 sq ft facility that doubles as a sorting and distribution center with parking for vans and employees and a loading dock. Why must sorting and distribution of mail for the whole of Philipstown be done from what’s already the most overbuilt parcel of commercial property in the town? Makes no sense to me.
“The net result … is the annexation of all entry and exit points to this neighborhood for the benefit of the Foodtown Plaza developer — effectively trapping these taxpaying residents behind a box store/supermarket complex and its parking/delivery/truck storage,” wrote Tom Campanile…
This is absolutely correct, and is not only a problem for the immediate neighbors, but also anyone who wants to walk or ride a bike from points west of 9D to any business in the plaza.
How will this meet the aims of the proposed comprehensive plan, which calls for improved routes on foot or bicycle to or through the plaza? http://coldspringny.virtualtownhall.net/pages/ColdSpringNY_BComm/village_board_drafts/12-07-2011_draft_comp_plan.pdf (Search for pedestrian or bicyclist to find specific points about Foodtown.)
So it begins, all the usual rhetoric. Save us all a lot of time and money. Deny any expansion for the Post Office or Foodtown.
Then the Post Office can be moved to the North Highlands Shopping Plaza or combined with Garrison and we can go back to peace until the next manufactured crisis.
A nice drive out of town to get Postal Services would let everyone breathe different air.
The trend with Post Offices is to centralize operations: i.e. have the mail delivery in trucks coming from some central location (in Cold Spring’s case I would assume to be the USPS-owned facility in a place like Beacon, where parking for the trucks would doubtless be adequate), and to rent a small store front (say, on Main Street) where local residents could mail a letter or a package and buy stamps.
This trend was described by the Post Office representative himself last year at a public hearing in Cold Spring to discuss the Post Office’s search for a possible new home, as having been done when the local post office was closed at some location in New Jersey (was it Parsippany?).
If there is really some need to find a rush solution (which wouldn’t be the case if the owner of the strip mall Mr Constantine Serroukas, and the owner of Foodtown Mr Katz would stop demanding that the Post Office move out) then this division of the Post Office into two sections, a small retail operation that will stay in town here, and a “wholesale” mail delivery relocation to some larger nearby city where the Post Office owns the facility would be a good solution ultimately, in my opinion; in addition, this would inconvenience no one.
There is no real need for Foodtown to expand, as Foodtown is basically a convenience store where you can do a little quick shopping, but where prices are quite high, items come in small high-priced packages only, compared to bigger chain supermarkets.
Most people in Cold Spring have a car, and can shop where groceries are cheaper, but for those who don’t have a car, Shoprite of Poughkeepsie and also Shoprite of Cortland Manor deliver for about $16 a time and if you have your groceries delivered twice a month, for the convenience of being able to buy bigger packages or containers at lower prices, and having your groceries delivered right to your door, you will still save money and have a much wider choice than you will find at Foodtown.
There is no need to evict the Post Office, and it is pressure from Mr Serroukas and Mr Katz that is creating this situation, which many people feel is harmful to Cold Spring.
Why knock down the Post Office, expand the over-priced Foodtown into that space, and then build another Post Office next to it? This is hasty, unnecessary, ill-considered, ill-advised and I believe detrimental to the community.
I believe that these business interests from outside Cold Spring are attempting to manipulate public opinion to their own benefit by creating this anxiety about the fate of the Post Office, which they themselves are putting in jeopardy.
Let the Post Office lease be renewed for another year or two and stay where it is, let Foodtown stay as it is, and in a year or two, we will see what is to be done with the Post Office–there is no hurry at all, and no need whatsoever for the hysteria evident in discussions of this situation.