Elmes rejects a preliminary compromise offer
By Kevin E. Foley
The Cold Spring Planning Board put Kenny Elmes on notice last Tuesday evening (July 31) that, although inclined to otherwise approve his application, it didn’t care for the drive-thru window planned for the Dunkin’ Donuts franchise at his Chestnut Street gas station.
Although not making a formal decision, four of the five members declared they would prefer a compromise wherein Elmes agrees to drop the window at the outset in return for a review six months to a year later on the traffic impact of the operation, which will also include a convenience store.
“It’s a kind of roll of the dice with the traffic,” said Joseph Barbaro, board chair, as he proposed the compromise for discussion.
Elmes made clear the idea was unacceptable since having a window for drivers to purchase coffee, donuts and other products without leaving their vehicles was central to the success of the Dunkin’ Donuts franchise. At previous meetings, representatives from Dunkin’ Donuts had emphasized the growing importance of drive-through convenience in fast-food franchises.
Traffic and parking considerations took up most of the nearly two-hour meeting at the VFW Hall before an audience of approximately a dozen people. At the outset of the meeting, Barbaro said that while there were other issues needing review, traffic impact was at the heart of the board’s concerns.
But before delving into the nuance of traffic flows, Elmes let the board know of his frustration and bitter disappointment at the pace of the process.
“I am being driven to bankruptcy and I am being (physically) crippled by all this,” he declared. Elmes described his current car repair shop enterprise as failing, with employees leaving in anticipation of a closing. Injured in a motorcycle accident, Elmes said he should not be standing as much he is presently required to do. He also said the expense of the application process to change his business model had caused him to use college funds saved for his children.
Although not directly relevant to the proceedings, Elmes’ personal appeal clearly had emotional impact on the board members as they wrestled with the issue. Local citizens appointed by the mayor and village trustees, Planning Board members serve five-year terms on a volunteer basis.
The basic reason for the board’s attempt at compromise is its mistrust of the traffic study from Tim Miller Associates that predicts no negative impact from the three businesses that would operate on the site. “We are all worried there will be more cars than you say there will be,” said member Jimmy Zuehl.
Board members emphasized they were making judgments about traffic impact that included the expected expansion of nearby Foodtown and the development of the Butterfield site that will likely contain several government offices, commercial shops, and housing units. “We have to try and look ahead five years down the road,” said Parge Sgro. Arne Saari pointed out that the Foodtown parking lot at times has traffic backup now.
Throughout the meeting, just as they had at their July 10 meeting, board members and their consultant, Rob Cameron, of Putnam Engineering, sparred with James Garofalo of Miller Associates over the details of north and south traffic volume on Route 9D (Chestnut Street) at various times of day as well as the potential backup of traffic waiting to use the drive-thru window and/or the gas pumps and then exiting back onto the road. Garofalo insisted his study encompassed consideration of future development nearby and that his data accurately reflected conditions in Cold Spring during different time periods.
He and Elmes also insisted that Dunkin’ Donuts tracked traffic flow electronically and that the company incentivized franchise owners to keep things moving, thereby alleviating the risk of any traffic tie-ups.
Dick Weissbrod was the only board member who more or less accepted the traffic assumptions. “Traffic would not be much less without the drive-thru window,” he said. However Weissbrod had several environmental concerns principally relating to noise generated by the window.
“We make more noise now with the repair shop,” responded Elmes.
Aside from an apparent standoff on the drive-thru window, the Planning Board’s need to observe state law and procedure caused further rancor and angst. Barbaro indicated the board would need time to study the applicants’ required environmental assessment form (submitted at the meeting) and then at least another 30 days to poll other governmental agencies to establish the Planning Board as lead agency as mandated by the state environmental quality review law. Barbaro said the board would meet again in two weeks.
A motion by Sgro to schedule a public hearing sooner, which seemed more a sympathetic response to Elmes than an appropriate procedure, was denied by his colleagues.
Elmes protested anew the process was taking too long and costing him too much money and that he was being held to a higher standard than other merchants in the village, a charge for which he didn’t offer specific evidence. “What we are trying to do is allowed by the village code; I don’t know what the problem is,” he protested.
“Allowed is not a guarantee. The board has discretion in these matters. Safety is our important responsibility,” responded Barbaro.