Discussion over traffic concerns appeared to do doughnuts, with board members’ tires spinning, and agreement among the board stalled on August 12 over access for a proposed filling station on Cranberry Highway.
Two separate but related public hearings wound up being continued after over two hours of pushing and pulling between board members and with the applicants as well. Rochester Crossroads LLC and Colbea Enterprises, both with shared representatives, tried their best to alleviate some board members’ concerns over trucks turning into a tight squeeze of a turn onto an access road, which, at first, took two steps backwards before two subsequent steps forward as the parties inched closer to a consensus among the board.
First up was Rochester Crossroads, addressing some drainage concerns and lack of a buffer zone between the commercial and abutting residential zone with the board, which quickly escalated to the main issue at hand: traffic logistics and big trucks.
The discussion turned away from where the board left off at the last meeting, when talk focused mostly on vehicles exiting the proposed gas station/convenience store/coffee shop and taking an illegal left turn despite signage and an obstructing curb. The focus was now on trucks using an access road that Rochester Crossroads will have built to accommodate the new filling station.
Board member Susan Teal was against the buffer zone waivers Rochester Crossroads was seeking, saying that the regulations for buffer zones existed before the proposed plan, so the company should seek to comply with the rules now, rather than ask for waivers. Board member John DeMaggio concurred with Teal, asking, why do we have rules and regulations if the board is just going to grant waivers for them?
And regarding the buffer zone, the abutting residential property line is still under dispute with the landowner’s heirs, although Rochester Crossroads’ attorney, Rich Serkey, assured the board that he had in his possession the deed with the actual property lines represented.
“We have the buffer zone and we have it for a reason,” stated Chairman Arnold Johnson, who later admitted that he could not be persuaded to support the project and commented that he would somehow get himself out of having to vote on the matter.
Talk went back and forth between the buffer zone and widening the opening for trucks turning onto the access road. Board member Michael Murphy was first to point out that talk was headed toward widening the entrance for trucks turning into the access road that trucks are prohibited from entering in the first place.
“Not practical and difficult to enforce,” Teal read from a letter from the engineering consultant for the Town, Ken Motta, regarding the turn radius of the access road.
Serkey suggested the board close the public hearing for Rochester Crossroads, saying the traffic flow for the gas station was a Colbea matter, but not without more internal arguing among board members over the matter.
When Colbea came up, representative Mark Smith took the stage, going over the general plans for the filling station, attempting to fill in some blanks for the board regarding frequency of trucks entering the site and truck movement within the site. Johnson disagreed with Smith’s assertion that having a coffee shop drive-thru onsite would not increase traffic congestion. At that, Johnson suggested getting an independent traffic engineer to look it over, calling it “critical.”
One of the managers from Colbea, Andrew Delli Carpini, said his family has been building convenience stores and gas stations for some time, and he knows that the site would have no issues with traffic flow or congestion and the site is large enough, ideal even, for the filling station based on the company’s 21 years of experience.
“We know gas stations,” said Carpini. “I think the project will flow nicely.”
The board listened to a presentation of the traffic study done on the site, which led to a lot of “what if” questions, especially from Johnson. He posed several hypothetical traffic scenarios before Murphy finally spoke out, giving a real jumpstart to the discussion.
“I think a lot of this is bull,” said Murphy at the start of his diatribe, intercepting a few yawns from some board members. He said he has been in the trucking business for 46 years and he is well acquainted with that stretch of road, specifically mentioning how trucks do not have problems turning into the 7-Eleven across the street. He was opposed to widening the access road opening, and he said a tractor-trailer driver knows better to wait until cars clear the site before pulling into it. He said that there are very few accidents involving all the hypothetical scenarios.
“I know, I do the towing,” added Murphy. “The bottom line is … we want these guys to jump through hoops. And that’s bull.”
Carpini jumped in to reassure the board, “My name’s going to be on [this project].” He said he would not associate his name with traffic gaffes or safety hazards.
Soon, talk completely switched gears toward narrowing the access road opening to inhibit trucks from entering. Johnson asserted that the Town’s own engineer was adamantly against a narrow opening, and Johnson was soon in the minority in favor of the wider opening. A heated debate between Murphy and Johnson ensued until Engineer Phil Cordeiro took the wheel and drove the discussion home.
Why not the 36-inch wider opening, Cordeiro posed the question.
“Because truck drivers are very clever,” he stated. If truck drivers want to get into that access road they will find a way, and widening the opening will only encourage them.
Cordeiro addressed “what ifs” over traffic flow and congestion, especially during peak times, using an analogy of planning a parking lot for a new church.
“You don’t design it for Easter morning,” said Cordeiro, especially if on the other 51 Sundays that year there are only ten people attending church. “This [access road] is really the secondary entrance to the site.”
“I’m gonna get out of voting on this,” said Johnson, “but I still don’t agree.” He said he could not be talked out of his opposition, although he sees the other board members’ points.
The matter was continued until August 26, the next meeting of the Rochester Planning Board.
By Jean Perry