Dunkin’ Donuts Proposal Set for Public Comment

Traffic is Planning Board’s main concern

By Kevin E. Foley

The Elmesco service station

This week’s Cold Spring Planning Board public hearing on the application to establish a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise and a convenience store at the Elmesco service station on Chestnut Street (Route 9D) is expected to draw a large audience.

Fevered expressions of outrage at the prospect of a global fast-food franchise disrupting the delicate harmony of village life are anticipated to be matched by full-throated support for a property-owner’s and long-time merchant’s rights with perhaps some appreciation for inexpensive, readily available coffee and donut variety in the bargain.

The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 18 at 7 p.m. at the VFW Hall on Kemble Avenue. First the Planning Board will formally adopt its role as lead agency in the matter presumably having heard no objections from other agencies.  Then the board will hear from the public.

It is impossible to predict how many people will actually show up for any particular event, civic, cultural or sporting.  The demands of work, school and family have a way of distracting people from the public realm.

When the proposal first surfaced there was undeniably substantial chatter against it and calls for an organized protest that so far has failed to materialize.  Still there is evidence that many people, especially local merchants and some residential neighbors, are still opposed.

Conversely, there has been commentary on the Philipstown.info website defending the right to build the business and questioning the assumption of its possible ill effect. A recent PCNR headline suggested growing support for Kenny Elmes, the owner of the station, and his proposal. But just how that support is made manifest or even what support might mean in this circumstance was not made not clear in the their story.

Except for the first few meetings, the deliberations of the Planning Board have been sparsely attended. Perhaps the main cause is the Planning Board’s narrowing of its scope from a broader consideration of the potential impact and precedent of an international food chain on the commercial and residential life of the village to the more prosaic details of traffic flow and safety.

Counsel’s role

When the Planning Board first sat to consider the application in April, chairman Joseph Barbaro opened with remarks that clearly reflected a deeper concern about the impact of the project beyond traffic, although traffic was also raised by him and other members from the outset.

Barbaro referenced the village’s comprehensive plan and the need to closely adhere to its direction as well as the potential for precedent an approval of Dunkin’ Donuts would set for proposals for similar businesses such as McDonald’s.

But also during that April meeting member Arnie Saari questioned the board’s authority to consider, let alone object to, the project on the grounds it involved a chain, franchise or as some prefer, formula business. He also questioned, as others have since, whether the comprehensive plan had language authorizing such a consideration or objection.

The answer appears to be no.

That perspective is drawn from the subsequent meetings of the Planning Board in the aftermath of the chairman’s request to village counsel, Steven Gaba, for an opinion on the board’s scope on the matter.  Barbaro has made clear more than once that the board’s primary concern is traffic and related safety matters. Without directly referencing Gaba’s opinion, the Planning Board has pulled in its horns.

Philipstown.info’s formal freedom of information request to review Gaba’s opinion was denied by Gaba himself, who claimed attorney-client privilege prevented its disclosure. That the person who writes an opinion that influences decisions of consequence can also rule on whether it should be accessible to the public is an interesting issue.

Villages, like other governmental entities, must abide by their own written laws and rules as well as county, state and even federal laws governing various activities. Accordingly, reliance on legal advice becomes a necessity before acting to avoid the burdensome expense of litigation in the aftermath.  Such reliance, however, can morph into a form of de facto policy making at times.

In the first round of the Butterfield development issue, when things seemed too contentious in the public realm, Gaba suggested during a well-attended public meeting that discussions might be more beneficial in a “less fraught environment.” The next day the developer Paul Guillaro withdrew his application.  Since then consideration of the project has begun anew, without the formal filing of an application, allowing, one presumes, for more informal conversation between officials and developer as needed.

All about the drive-thru

The introduction of a drive-thru window for ordering Dunkin’ Donuts products is now the Planning Board’s primary focus.  At its July 31 meeting Barbaro asked Elmes if he would be willing to consider a compromise wherein he received conditional approval with the drive-thru held over for later consideration. Elmes and Dunkin’ Donuts rejected the offer declaring the drive-thru critical for the success of the business.

Testimony for or against this proposal that hones in on the drive-thru window will arguably be the most effective in influencing the final vote of the Planning Board.

4 thoughts on “Dunkin’ Donuts Proposal Set for Public Comment

  1. I don’t understand how there can be any deliberations on whether Kenny Elmes should be allowed a drive-thru. If anyone who reads this can explain to me how a gas station isn’t already a drive-thru, please do so! I see Elmesco as an eight-window drive-thru (eight gas pumps) and I can’t understand how an additional window would have any adverse affect on traffic conditions along the Route 9D corridor.

  2. Regarding the FOIL request made by the reporter — since when is the town/village attorney the Records Access Officer designated pursuant to statute to comply with the FOI law? Usually the town clerk is the RAO and the FOI law is quite specific as to which records are available and also to whom appeals must be made in case access is denied. The state Committee on Open Government website contains everything you need to know about these two most important laws — Open Meetings and FOIL. I’m sure that relevant opinions can be found there, opinions that were generated by Mr. Open Government himself, Robert Freeman, who was written about in The Paper not too long ago. As someone who has crafted numerous FOIL requests over the years, I wonder if it’s true that attorney Gaba’s opinion is not subject to FOIL. I would definitely look into it further. At the very least, Village officials are violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the law.

  3. Thank you, Kevin, for trying to get access to that Gaba decision. Our Village attorney acts as if the issues raised in the Comprehensive Planning process do not carry any weight at all in Planning Board decisions because they are non-traditional site plan concerns. Gaba’s decision, however, is being inconsistently followed.

    Every conversation about Butterfield references non-traditional planning issues brought up during Comprehensive planning process — saving the lawn, saving the trees, tax neutral, mixed use, fitting in with the Village. But we can’t reference issues raised during comprehensive planning when we talk about introducing a Dunkin’ Donuts? Why can’t the Planning Board consider that in every meeting and survey done for the plan, people spoke passionately about wanting to preserve the quiet, small-town atmosphere with its small shops and walkable neighborhoods?

    Fortunately there are enough — more than enough — site-plan issues that the applicant has not responded to, that demonstrate that this project should not proceed in its current design. There is a convoluted traffic pattern of overlapping pumps, parking and drive-thru traffic. Deliveries and traffic from adjacent businesses was not addressed. There is absolutely no safe pedestrian access. The introduction of litter was even not discussed. Noise and pollution from idling cars is not being dealt with.

    The applicant proposes to mitigate some issues with a fence that he has not even applied to the ZBA for. Permission to use an easement appears to have not materialized. Yes, there are more than enough on hard issues to turn down this application, although I would support that the Comprehensive plan still needs to be considered because it is the voice of the residents of Cold Spring.

  4. As a recent (twice in the last three weeks) visitor driving two hours one-way to Cold Spring, I must say that your village is beautiful! Part of the beauty is due to the harmonic co-existence of all the unique businesses assembled. While the owner of the proposed DD site certainly has the right to build whatever he likes on his property, another DD does nothing to attract tourists like me. My best travel experiences have included time spent in places that reflect the local people and atmosphere. During the time spent in the area, my friends and I ate and were entertained at special, not chain, establishments (Whistling Willie’s, Riverview Restaurant, the farmer’s market at Boscobel).

    Recent letters to The Paper make excellent points. The village is unique. DD is not unique. DD is everywhere along I-84 and Route 9. As for the trash, I agree with Catherine Carnevale’s assertion that it will increase along the roadway. (I live 14 miles from the nearest BK, DD, or McDonald’s. Weird how those food wrappers wind up along my rural road.) As for my money, I know first-hand that I’ll not find a better cup of coffee or company than that offered by Tara and her owner at The Country Goose.