By Julia Purdy
PITTSFORD—Since 2016, Pittsford BTS Retail LLC has been trying to gain approval to build a Dollar General store in the north end of the village, on Plains Road. BTS’ latest attempt was its third hearing before the Zoning Board of Adjustment in Pittsford Monday, March 12, attended by about 40 townspeople.
In November 2017, the board heard testimony from BTS, who at that time requested more time to prepare additional data, according to preliminary remarks by Zoning Board Chair Stan Markowski. That hearing was adjourned, continued in January 2018, and rescheduled again for Monday night.
In a letter to Zoning Administrator Jeff Biasuzzi, dated Nov. 8, 2017, Trudell Consulting Engineers of Williston, acting on behalf of Pittsford BTS Retail, filed an application for conditional use for a “simple retail” store, with no adverse environmental effects noted. The application did not identify Dollar General by name. The application describes the infrastructure, which includes a building of either 9,100 or 9,267 square feet.
Chairman Markowski stated the purpose of the hearing was to entertain BTS’ proposed changes arising from the November hearing. But it was soon apparent that residents came armed with rebuttals to statements made by BTS on the points of safety risk, traffic congestion, and incompatibility with village streetscapes. While everyone listened attentively, no one in the audience voiced support for the project.
Representing BTS were Matt Casey, vice president of development for the Zaremba Group, an Ohio-based shopping center developer acting on behalf of Pittsford Retail; Attorney David Cooper of Rutland; Abigail Dery, project manager with Trudell Consulting Engineers of Williston, and Wendy Holsberger, director of transportation with Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Consulting (VHB), transit planners headquartered in Watertown, Mass., with an office in Burlington, Vt.
Frank von Turkovich, owner of the prospective Dollar General site, sat with the BTS group.
The zoning board panel included Pittsford town attorney Gary Kupferer.
Unresolved issues from the November hearing included certain data-based assumptions by BTS about pedestrian traffic, motorist behavior and traffic volume.
Although BTS voiced several small concessions, BTS basically reiterated the content from its November application.
When asked how pedestrians would affect traffic flow on Plains Road, Dery admitted there might be a slowdown, as vehicles will “of course” stop for pedestrians. In any case, pedestrian traffic would be “negligible” and the application stated “zero conflicts” between vehicles and pedestrians, she asserted.
This assumption was promptly contested. “One in eight stop when they’re supposed to,” someone said. A related concern was children crossing Plains Road to Dollar General from the school bus stop on Route 7.
An accompanying site plan dated a year ago shows a crosswalk across the entrance to Plains Road with a “Pedestrian Crossing” sign and a flashing light.
But on a later grading and utilities plan, these features have disappeared. Dery noted that she “took away” the crosswalk striping and the flashing light mentioned in November so as not to give pedestrians a “false sense of security.”
The original application was supported by detailed crash analysis and traffic volume reports for Route 7, which was noted on the plans as “not a high-crash corridor.”
The projected change at the Plains Road entrance on Route 7 will now include adding a right turn lane from the south and shifting the sidewalk, Dery said. The traffic volume evaluation has been completed, and there is no negative impact on the usual traffic patterns, she said. While noting that VTrans data shows traffic volume on Route 7 has dropped significantly in the last 20 years, improvements will increase traffic efficiency by 17 percent, Holsberger asserted.
In November, Trudell had stated that one tractor trailer per week would make deliveries, with smaller ancillary trucks daily. At that hearing a resident asked about the company’s experience at the Rutland store, to which Casey replied he had not developed that particular store.
But in evidence presented to the board at this hearing, Tharon Malay for the Concerned Citizens of Pittsford and Tammy Hitchcock challenged Trudell’s assertion that just one 53-foot Dollar General-owned tractor-trailer would be delivering to the store weekly and other “ancillary” deliveries would average three per week on smaller single trucks.
Hitchcock presented photos she took of multiple “18-wheelers” from various distributors arriving simultaneously on several occasions at the Dollar General on North Main St. in Rutland. Traffic on Route 7 was stopped, and trucks could be seen parked in customer spaces while waiting their turn at the loading dock.
An undated circulation plan included in the application shows space for only one tractor-trailer at the Pittsford loading dock. Casey maintained that one truck is standard for Dollar General but offered that the delivery area could be enlarged.
Malay’s written statement also tackled the issue of numbers of trucks, truck size and turning radius, using the same data consulted by Trudell.
In November, Dary could not supply the actual turning radius but said a computer program was used to determine accessibility.
Malay presented his own calculations for the record, using the same template from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). Using Trudell’s own plans, he illustrated that the turning radius of a 53-foot tractor-trailer would cause it to overrun several grass medians and parking spaces, including handicapped spaces, in the store parking area. He also explained that the same truck turning onto Plains Road from the south would have to travel 120 to 220 feet in the oncoming lane to gain clearance for turning in to the store lot.
It was pointed out from the audience that “Every truck going into oncoming traffic is not safe.”
There was an awkward moment as this information sank in. Attorney Cooper conceded that the turning radius as calculated is “conservative.” Dery noted that the “footprint” is standard for Dollar General. She added that Plains Road from Route 7 to the store entrance will be widened to 25 feet.
A debate followed as to how much traffic actually uses Plains Road instead of Route 7. BTS seemed to downplay the numbers of cars that would take Plains Road to reach the store, especially if the intersection is redesigned, but this view was vigorously rebutted by neighbors and commuters.
In an effort to be helpful, some in the audience offered possible solutions, but one woman spoke up, saying, “This doesn’t work. Why are we trying to make it work? That’s their job. It doesn’t work!” Loud applause followed.
Barb LaLancette, Kristy Hamilton and Theodore Gillen submitted evidence for the record citing wording from the zoning regulations and the town plan on the “value of appearance and congenial arrangement … related to the objectives of the adopted Town Plan,” and the “preserved rural heritage and character” of Pittsford. LaLancette asserted that the Dollar General application fails to meet these criteria.
Noting that the village is “home to many of the great styles of architecture that America was founded on,” Hamilton and Gillen concluded that the scale and appearance of a Dollar Store “in no way conforms” and would have “an undue adverse effect on the character of the neighborhood.”
As the hearing wrapped up, Attorney Kupferer noted that of six changes proposed in Attorney Cooper’s recent letter to the board, just two were addressed tonight.
Board member Rick Conway commented that he had received inadequate advance notice of changes resulting from statements made at the November meeting, which he found “disturbing.”
While the general sense seemed to be, in the words of an attendee, “There are so many things that have to be changed, maybe it’s the wrong site,” Chairman Markowski called for a site visit at 5:30 Monday, March 26, to be followed by a continuation of the hearing.
Attorney Cooper said that Act 250 still has to be addressed and permits need to be secured.
The Zoning Board hearings are not BTS’ first go-round. On Sept. 27, 2016, BTS and Trudell came before the Environmental Commission of the Natural Resources Board in a warned hearing to provide evidence supporting the Dollar General development. After a third recess order for purposes of gathering more information, BTS withdrew its Act 250 application on May 15, 2017, “in order to … prepare a full application under all ten criteria at a future date,” according to the BTS request.
The traffic safety issue is proving to be persistent. Act 250 Criterion 5 (traffic and transportation) drew the most reaction and comment from the audience. At that time Abby Dery countered with many of the same assertions about traffic volume and safety standards that were heard again on March 12.