COLONIE — After an at times contentious meeting, the Planning Board granted concept acceptance to a Mazda car dealership at the intersection of Route 7 and Mill Road.
The audience clearly was not happy after the board unanimously voted to move the project forward, with one shouting “throw them out” and another levying threats at the end of a pointed finger to Chairman Peter Stuto.
The project is a longtime in the works and was last in front of the board in April. At that time it was tabled because of traffic concerns at the congested intersection. It originally began as a proposal by DePaula Automotive as a Maserati dealership but that has now opened at the former Progressive Insurance building on Central Avenue.
After a meeting with the state Department of Transportation, the latest iteration includes a right in/right out from Route 7 heading west. Mill Road will be widened to include a left hand turning lane for cars heading east on Route 7, and there would be a right turn only coming out of the dealership onto Mill Road.
While the board did grant DePaula permission to go ahead and conduct more in depth engineering to the specifics, it made clear it is not a final approval, and the specifics will have to earn board approval and meet other standards before construction can start.
Widening of Mill Road presumably, will help move traffic because one of the reasons for the backup at the light, said Francis Palumbo, of CT Male who proposed the plan on behalf of DePaula, is cars waiting to make a left hand turn onto Route 7. While those vehicles wait, the drives wanting to make a right hand turn wait too even though they could have continued if not stuck behind the ones making a left. A left hand turn lane will give them enough room to get by and make a right.
Palumbo said the land needed to widen the road will come from DePaula’s parcel and deeded to the town.
“It is our goal tonight to leave with concept and actually do all of the design work that is necessary to further support what we are saying and get that reviewed by the DOT and the town engineer,” he said.
Residents along, though, and off Mill Road were not happy and not happy with plans to keep those test driving vehicles out of the neighborhood and to mitigate light and noise pollution.
“Mill Road, we will take care of them if we put a fence up. But they don’t take into consideration of the neighbors listening to the service area, the pneumatic hammers. Or the lights,” said John McLaughlin, a 30-plus-year resident of Mill Road. “This is Mill Road. Let the one country road stay a country road. This is not a good idea, this dealership.”
“This is a bad project. The residents of Colonie deserve better. This is bad. A small office building would be better. Anything but this,” said Ed Gleeson, another resident of Mill Road. “This is not a safe place. The traffic backs up there now. You are supposed to represent the people not the developer. This is a bad project and you are ramming it down our throats.”
Palumbo said the service area will be located in an existing building and is located as far away from neighbors as the site will allow.
Another concern has been potential customers taking test drives through the neighborhoods on and around Mill Road. But Palumbo said company policy, as dictated by the insurance company, allows drivers, who will always be accompanied by an employee, to take a left hand turn at a signalized intersection.
Joe Grasso, the town designated engineer for the project, said an office building, the size allowable under the current zoning parameters, would generate some five times the amount of traffic during the a.m. and p.m. peak hours.
During the a.m. peak travel hour, the dealership will generate 31 trips, with 17 going in and 14 exiting, and 42 in the afternoon’s busiest travel hour with 19 entering and 23 exiting.
“If we are trying to mitigate traffic out of this site, the land use as a car dealership is well suited,” he said. “Both uses are allowed under zoning, as are many others. A retail establishment, which is also allowed, would result in more generations than a car dealership.”
As for test drives, Palumbo said from April 2018 through March the Mazda dealership on Central Avenue sold 520 cars, or 43 per month. That equals about 15 test drives per day.
Another concern brought by the board and the residents were car carriers unloading on Route 7. Palumbo said that would not happen at this place, because it is far from practical on Route 7, and he took exception to the relatively small Mazda dealership being compared to the mammoth stretch of dealership under the Keeler umbrella west of the site on Route 7.
“We can’t be held responsible for the sins of others,” he said.
The plan was changed a bit to store inventory in the back section of the site with enough room for the carriers to pull in, unload and turn around to pull out onto Route 7. They won’t be able to take a left onto Route 7, the quickest way to a major highway, but Palumbo said it is 3.8 miles to Exit 4 heading east on Route 7 to Exit 6 and 4.2 miles to Exit 4 heading west to Albany Shaker Road and then to the Northway.
In all, there would be a total of 201 parking spaces proposed on the site: 20 for sales, 32 for employees, 28 for service, 57 for display and 64 for inventory.
Another resident, Laura Stevens, of Northview Drive, said property values in the area would drop if the dealership were allowed built at the site.
“There has been no discussion of property values and the impact of property values and resale values of neighboring homes,” she said. “With other development going on in town, there has been talk of former farmland and the owners of farmland rely on selling that land to developers as part of their retirement. You have residents here, and this home is part of their financial security. They rely on the value of their home. This is part of their financial security. The town has a responsibility to the residents to not impact the value of their homes.”
She said she lives 600 feet from the Keeler lot and sees the lights from the parking lot and during the winter can see car lights and snow plow lights and questioned the pledge by DePaula to not have a PA system. Regardless, she hears car alarms, back up noises from delivery vehicles, snow plows, which work during off hours, and garbage pick-up.
There would be a 50-foot buffer between the dealership and the nearest neighbor and a fence, and possibly more landscaping, will be installed along the north side of the property.
The project would include demolishing two buildings currently on the site but the shell of and existing 7,500-square-foot buildings would remain and get converted into a service garage. A new, two-story 9,500-square-foot building will be a showroom and office space.
Prior to the vote, board members Frederick Ashworth said he was pleased with the work done on mitigating the traffic impact but said for the plan to work the signage would have to be crystal clear so motorists know where they can and can’t go.
Board member Steve Heider, said the concept of having a right in and right out only works “until someone makes a left hand turn.” But, he added, having it there is better than allowing people to take a left hand turn into the site while heading east on Route 7.
He also said if the project does not make it through final approval that the town should look at making the same improvements to Mill Road that DePaula is proposing.
Generally, projects in front of the Planning Board go from concept to final approval. But, the board agreed to have a supplemental meeting between concept and final approval so the developer can update the residents with more specifics of the generalities presented before being granted concept approval.