Dunkin’ Donuts Proposal Thoroughly Aired

Personal regard for the applicant complicates differing views

Kenny Elmes and his wife Fran in the foreground at the Cold Spring Planning Board public hearing on the Dunkin’ Donuts franchise application. Photo by K.E. Foley

A steady evening rainfall following an afternoon of wicked wind did not deter a standing-room-only crowd from attending and speaking at the Cold Spring Planning Board public hearing on the Kenny Elmes proposal to open a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise and a convenience store at his Chestnut Street gas station. At its peak, approximately 70 people filled the VFW Hall on Kemble Avenue on Tuesday (Sept. 18).

The meeting began at about 7:20 p.m. and ran until 10:40 p.m., with an unofficial tally of 38 speakers divided for and against the proposal and supporters appearing to hold a small majority. Although there were sharp differences of opinion on Elmes’ application, the hearing was civil throughout, with almost all remarks receiving polite applause, sometimes even by opponents.

Despite the division, the meeting evidenced a deep consensus that Cold Spring was a special place to live. Some expressed a strong belief that its special character lies primarily in the people who reside in the village and that a fast-food outlet, especially one that would help a long-time respected businessman, cannot undermine the sense of camaraderie and community spirit.

Others argued just the opposite, that permitting a national fast-food franchise to operate in a village treasured for its physical uniqueness by residents and visitors alike would be a slippery slope leading to additional franchise applications and a permanent surrender of the village’s most attractive qualities.

At the outset of the meeting, the Planning Board formally designated itself lead agency for the approval process after hearing no objections to that role from other governmental entities at the village, town, county and state level. Going forward, the Planning Board will hold additional workshops on the matter with the board deciding the extent of further review under the State Environmental Quality Act (SEQR). Chairman Joseph Barbaro said at the end of the meeting that it would not be until Oct. 16 before the board could meet again due to the time needed to transcribe the evening’s testimony.

Almost all of the speakers at the hearing made some reference to the applicant, Elmes, who has operated the universally appreciated Elmseco service station for over 25 years. Elmes has said at several meetings that he needs to close the auto-repair business due to declining business and the injuries he sustained in a motorcycle accident. He has said that the franchise operation together with the convenience store is his best option for business sustainability.

Some expressed their support as simply Elmes’ due as a respected businessman, a property owner with rights, and more personally, someone they trusted, liked and believed needed a break.

PCNR reporter takes a stand

The first speaker of the evening set the tone for many in favor of the applicant. Tim Greco, the pastor of the Church on the Hill in Nelsonville and also the Putnam County News and Recorder journalist covering the event, declared he was taking his reporter’s hat off to testify.

Referencing hardships faced by Elmes, including the loss of a son and his left leg, Greco said: “He’s been fair to us, he’s been very fair to me, I trust Kenny, and I ask you do the same. I think he should be approved and he should have his drive-thru window. He has a right to make a living in our town, and for us to deny that is unfair.”

Greco exhorted the Planning Board to show empathy toward the applicant and to put themselves in his shoes. “I know a lot of people would separate that (the personal circumstances), but I don’t think you can.” Throughout the evening, several more people repeated Greco’s basic theme of fairness to a good and deserving man.

Echoing many opponents’ perspective, Eric Muth didn’t disagree with Greco’s view of Elmes. “I feel for him. He’s probably the most honest businessman I know in the village. I know he’s gone through a lot.”

But then Muth said he doubted the assessment by the traffic consultant for Tim Miller Associates that the Dunkin’ Donuts and its drive-thru window would not significantly add to traffic problems in the area. “I have been working with consultants for 15 years, and you can always pay for an opinion you want,” he said.

He referred to a situation in Monmouth, N.J., where he claimed consultants had assured the community about a fast-food franchise and now there is great upset over the traffic problems. “Consultants don’t always get it right,” he said, reluctantly declaring himself opposed.

Several opposition speakers honed in on the traffic implications for the redeveloped gas-station site, for the nearby establishments such as the Main Course food store, and for the wider area, including the Foodtown Plaza and parking lot, the Drug World mini-mall, and the planned Butterfield development across the street.

Parking concerns included safety issues on the site, on Route 9D (Chestnut Street), and dangers to pedestrians in a village that seeks to promote walkability, a key theme of the Cold Spring Comprehensive Plan.

“Our review of the current site plan … considers it unworkable,” said Janice Hogan on behalf of the Benedict and Marion Avenue Association, whose members live behind the Foodtown Plaza and the Elmesco station. “Too much [traffic] is being squeezed into too little space. Unlike other Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru [operations] this plan has no dedicated path for cars.” Hogan asserted that vehicles entering the site to order coffee and donuts at the drive-thru window would have to compete for maneuvering room with cars at the gas pumps or in parking spaces.

“The most significant issue, and one that has not been addressed, is that nowhere on the site plan is there a safe path for pedestrians. How can we even consider a business that is dangerous for walkers when we say in our plan that we want to be a walkable village and that Chestnut Street should be safer? Not to mention that a lot of the pedestrians may be youth, and less inclined to pay attention to cars flowing in multiple directions,” said Judith Rose, whose detailed testimony invoked the goals of the Comprehensive Plan, such as preserving village character and enhancing economic vitality, at several points.

Hogan and Rose also warned about the impact of multiple delivery and garbage collection trucks servicing the site both during and after hours of operation, currently planned from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Just as the two opponents referred to the Comprehensive Plan as the “people’s will” on the future quality of life for the village, others offered a counter-perspective that hewed closely to the existing village code as the relevant context for the Planning Board.

“We should consider this issue under the law, said Carlos Salcedo, who argued that under current zoning, “Mr. Elmes has every right to have a Dunkin’ Donuts and to use his property to that effect as long as he doesn’t break the law.” Salcedo said he didn’t personally care for the franchise being located in the village, but “whether I like it or don’t like should be indifferent.”

“The law is the law, and current village code is the law, and the Comprehensive Plan is not. It is a set of suggestions to either follow or not,” argued Michael Bowman.  Continuing Bowman said, “The last time I checked, Cold Spring was in the United States. We’re capitalists. We don’t have the right to tell Kenny Elmes what business to put on Chestnut Street. … The Planning Board doesn’t have the right to tell Kenny Elmes what business to put on Chestnut Street.”

Business People Weigh In

The prospect of an international franchise chain has rankled village proprietors since it first came to light.  And several appeared at the hearing with a few speaking in opposition.

“Our residents value above everything else the historic small town nature that is uniquely preserved in Cold Spring,” said Lynn Miller of Go-Go Pops referring to surveys done as part of the development of the Comprehensive Plan.

She also pointedly said there was no evidence that people desired the presence of “larger corporate interests that offer cheap, predictable, mediocre goods that are available along any interstate highway or in anytown U.S.A. Our business community is made up of creative imaginative entrepreneurs offering unique handcrafted goods or preserved bits of our collective history for us and our visitors to discover,” said Miller.

“I do think the idea of bringing a chain into the village is going to change its character forever,” said Jeff Consaga, owner of the Foundry Café. He agreed with the expressions of regard for Elmes and said his view had nothing to do with possible competition from a franchise. “It has to do more with my view as a resident that the uniqueness and character of the village, this historic village, will be hurt if this is allowed to go through.”

13 thoughts on “Dunkin’ Donuts Proposal Thoroughly Aired

  1. During the hearing on Tuesday night, the Chairman was very polite in allowing all comments, without correction. However, it would have been useful for the Village Code to be quoted on the role of the Planning Board. Just because a proposed project is in conformity with zoning does not mean an automatic approval. It needs to meet a number of other hurdles, as defined in our code. The planning board is not denying a landowner his rights, they are protecting the rights of the Village by implementing its code by making its queries.

    Page 134-27: “The Planning Board shall review the plans submitted for approval, or any amendment to said plans, in the same manner as is prescribed by state law for the review of subdivision plats. In considering and approving the site plan, the Planning Board shall take into consideration the public health, safety and general welfare and the comfort and convenience of the public in general and of the residents of the immediate neighborhood in particular, and shall make any appropriate conditions and safeguards in harmony with the general purpose and intent of this chapter, and particularly with regard to achieving maximum safety of traffic, access and egress; a site layout which would have no adverse effect upon any properties in the area, including adjoining residence districts, by impairing the established character or potential use of such property in such area or districts; reasonable screening at all seasons of the year of playgrounds, parking and service areas from the view of adjacent residential properties and streets; consideration of the location of any outdoor lighting; conformance of the proposed site plan which such portions of any master plan of the Village of Cold Spring as may be in existence from time to time; adequate drainage; and the application of any portion of the requirements set forth in land subdivision regulations which may have been adopted by the Planning Board to the extent same may be advisable and pertinent for the suitable development and use of the property on the site plan being reviewed.”

    • Ms. Rose, thank you for posting the Village Code. Since at least May the Cold Spring Planning Board has been reviewing this project. That’s at least five months over which it has been thoroughly vetted, improved and compromised. Most of the comments at the public hearing centered around the “evil franchise” coming to Cold Spring. Nothing that you quoted prevents that. The other major concern was safety and accessibility, both of which have been noted over and over, and from I see have been improved in the site plan.

      There are no “perfect” building lots left in Cold Spring, if such a thing ever existed, and I could see the Planning Board playing such an in depth role on a new construction – but this is a change of use, one that has already passed muster of the HDRB. You might not like it, I might not like it and 30 percent of the Village might not like Dunkin Donuts, but it’s not up to us. The only person who knows what’s best from Ken Elmes, is Ken Elmes. And from what I’ve read, witnessed, and you have provided above, his plan fits within Village Code for better or worse. Given that fact, I can only imagine the ramifications if his application is denied on a technicality. The number of lawyers in the room the other night made it rather obvious.

      • In response to Michael Bowman. The safety and traffic problems have not been improved at all, not even slightly. That is a “technicality” that cannot be ignored. I wonder what lawyers will do when there is an accident or if a child is seriously injured or killed. The village has an obligation to the pedestrians to insure decent and proper planning. Michael’s argument is seriously flawed. The traffic and safety situation is dangerous now as it is.

      • I must agree with Michael on one point. The village government elected by its citizens could be threatened by corporate lawyers representing DD and monied interests at Bain Capital and the Carlyle Group. This is the only reason I can agree with Michael’s characterization of franchises as evil.

        • Bain Capital, Carlyle and Bald Eagles! What’s next? I’m sorry, I do believe the issues of traffic and public safety have been addressed and will be further explored and improved upon. Not sure what, other than no Dunkin’ Donuts, would suffice to satisfy those issues…decrease the speed limit, berms, another red light, etc. In my opinion these are being used as a last ditch effort to stall. And I would assume that lawyers will sue someone if somebody gets hurt. That’s a given, it doesn’t matter if it’s in front of the D&D, at the red light or at the waterfront.

  2. I was unable to attend the hearing on the Dunkin’ Donuts proposal so perhaps I missed this. But does it have to be a drive-in? Is it possible to let this one go in and then pass limits on national franchises? If we do not do that, step by step Cold Spring will become like every other place and we will have killed the Golden Goose.

  3. Sure Mike. At some point after the Planning Board has finished their work, let’s meet for coffee (my treat) and talk about Marathon. We may even possibly agree on that one.

  4. In three visits to Foodtown, post office, and the bank last week, witnessed four cars “cutting across” the proposed Dunkin Donut lot and narrowly missing hitting incoming cars. As I left to get in my car, two drivers headed in the wrong direction. It is already dangerous! More arrows are needed at least!

    My call out” “It’s a One Way!” was answered: “Don’t worry about it!” by a grumpy-looking woman as she drove north then cut through two parked cars to exit from the gas station! Unreal!

    There is no way that a drive-in makes any sense in this poorly-planned parking lot that Dunkin Donut drivers would certainly be cutting across! But mini-wall do not work either – case in point – the really stupid cement block that divides the gas station in Philipstown Plaza – – a car nearly hit the huge Bonsai display that had up along Rt. 9! It’s another insane approved mess.

    Also, seeing other Dunkin Donut shops – a la “colonial architecture” in northern Dutchess County makes me question the proposed “stucco” design. It just sounds ugly and not keeping with the character of the Village.

    The irony of Haldane seeking “field improvement” funds yet high-calorie, artery-clogging. cheap food now a stroll away, well…

  5. There no outstanding architecture, yet there is a dilapidated gas station down one street and a warehouse at the Metro North station with house wrap showing for years. Two million dollar field improvement / vanity project where synthetic turf cost more than a natural turf field. Lack of a lot of common sense.

  6. Victor, I agree with you on the many points you cite. Point of correction. The architectural design for the Dunkin Donuts was not Mr. Elmes’ doing. That was a brainchild of the Cold Spring Historical Review Board.

    Next on the $2 million expense for the field improvement is an affront to the taxpayers. I would be more inclined for supporting this if Haldane in its infinite wisdom had build a proper High School and removed the temporary trailers. That is another waste and mismanagement on the District’s part. I do not feel that it is a vanity project, they kids deserve it… but is it prudent right now?

    Most schools are getting away from astro turf due to higher propensity for injury. The Haldane Board of Ed should be asking themselves these questions. The $2 million project would also make more sense if Haldane and Garrison merge. Where else does a Superintendent make over $250K to oversee less than 800 students? When the contracts run out, do not reinstate the contract, let the other Super take over and have a true district. Hopefully Governor Cuomo will take the proactive steps to see this happen. I have confidence that this Governor will step up.

    The community needs the tax base. This is another example of spreading the wealth by taxing everyone for people’s personal desires or vision of the Dunkin Donuts. You are trading one franchise for another. You get rid of Citgo for Dunkin Donuts. My belief is that coffee is less toxic than the oil and gas tanks presently there. I get the impression that people would rather not have anything there.

    What does Bain Capital and Carlyle group have to do with this? Please, are you for real? Stick to the matters at hand. Stop trying to politicize an event. I am surprised that you are not bringing in the Aurora Theater shootings or Columbine. Next I will be reading that Dunkin Donuts promotes violent crimes perpetrated by gun-toting fanatics after getting a cup of Joe. We should ban caffeine from coffee.

    Lastly, has anyone been able to confirm how many Eagles nest at the Garage? There is just too much to address in this short venue.

  7. To Victor… I absolutely agree with the sentiment that the grip of “outstanding architecture” is a pretty patchy arguement, given the current state of buildings in/around the DD site. I am of the mind that the DD stucco design is not preferred, but it is beyond me to see how the current run-down auto shop is some kind of visual gem. As to the Haldane project… That is not a vanity project at all. Yes synthentic turf is more expensive, but it is also far more durable and will allow for year round use and have a far longer lifespan. The project cost pays for a significant increase in utility of that field. I’m happy to help see that happen.

    To Barbara. And Adam… You are right that the current traffic pattern in the Foodtown plaza is a mess. But this is an opportunity to get it fixed. So let’s take it! But I am not of the mind that we should throw down fear tactics of warning about Cold Spring kids getting hit by cars. There is no rational reason to assume DD customers are any worse drivers than the folks that go up and down Main and Chestnut Street already. Pedestrian accidents are not a real problem now. There is no reason to think that will change.

  8. Talk of accidents and children getting hit by cars are not fear tactics so much as they are valid concerns. My wife or I walk our daughter to The Nest a few days a week and that crosswalk is nothing short of a time bomb. Increased traffic is only going to add to this problem. A solution (i.e better cross walks, sidewalks, etc) needs to be put into place before we add to the problem even further.

    Laws are in place which make it illegal for people to talk or text while driving simply due to the fact that reaction time is affected and accidents happen. How this differs from someone eating or dealing with hot spilled coffee is not a stretch. Pedestrian accidents are not a real problem now. This is a good thing and let’s keep it that way.