2011-12-14 / Front Page / Civics and Politics

Residents Push Back on Foodtown Expansion

Neighborhood association is forming
by LOIS POWERS

Alerted by a PCN&R article on moves the Cold Spring Planning Board is making on the Foodtown expansion project on Rt. 9D in Cold Spring, four concerned residents who live with their families in homes behind the Foodtown shopping plaza, appeared at Tuesday night’s Planning Board meeting—reportedly representing many others.

Peter Henderson, Kevin Gaugler, Toni Sweet, and Janice Hogan voiced indignation at not being informed of the plans that will impact their neighborhood, and strongly opposed what they deem reckless and dangerous decisions being made by the Planning Board and Foodtown Plaza owner, Gus Serroukas.
 
On Tuesday, the Planners voted 4-1 to close the 9D entrance to the Foodtown Plaza that holds a post office, grocery store, hair salon, cleaners, pizza restaurant, and bank— and instead move the entrance to Benedict Road near the plaza exit. Increasing traffic on this small, dead-end street has people up in arms as residents report 25 young children living in the small Marion Avenue/Benedict Road area. Some of these children walk to school.
 
Benedict Road resident Tom Campanile stated in a letter to the Planning Board and shared with the PCN&R, “Given the daily near-misses that occur on Benedict with cars coming out of Foodtown Plaza failing to stop, how does this change not further exacerbate an already potentially deadly situation?” Mr. Campanile’s letter, acknowledged by the four meeting attendees as speaking for an entire neighborhood, goes on to question whether trying to save a perhaps soon-to-be-defunct entity, the post office, is worth all the ensuing safety problems, money, and antagonism in attempts to accommodate it.
 
In a statement after the meeting, Peter Henderson said, “I’ve almost been hit several times by drivers exiting the Foodtown lot without looking. I can only imagine how bad it will be with drivers trying to enter the parking lot just a few feet earlier… (with) the free-for-all that exists there already.”
 
The issue is complicated. Foodtown storeowner Dan Katz has a lease agreement with Plaza owner Gus Serroukas to expand Foodtown into the Post Office building when the Post Office lease expires. The lease expires at the end of January. The Post Office has asked for an extension on their lease, assumed to be granted by Serroukas while expansion details proceed with the Planning Board. And expansion has been the focal point of the last several Planning Board meetings in Cold Spring.
 
“There are serious problems with traffic for grocery store delivery, shoppers, and postal trucks. There are no sidewalks, curbs, or crosswalks to make the area safe for pedestrians walking from Benedict, Marion, or from the Foodtown Plaza to the Drug World Plaza,” said resident and art director Janice Hogan when asked for comment today. “There is no working drainage for the Foodtown Plaza or the Drug World Plaza. But, in the mad scramble to accommodate expansion for Foodtown into the Post Office space and the building of an extension for a new Post Office, Planning Board attention is focused in micro on the immediate plans for Foodtown Plaza without considering the bigger problems of the whole area.”
 
Planning Board Chairman Joseph Barbaro explained, “This approach (to place the Foodtown entrance on Benedict Road) was recommended by our planning consultant, RSG, Inc., and by the Building Inspector. Also, our engineering consultant, Rob Cameron supports the solution.” 
 
Peter Henderson responded: “The input they (Planning Board) received from the traffic consultants, RSG of Vermont, was so superficial it made me wonder if they had even visited the site or if they just looked at Google Earth from their office.”
 
In the Planning Board’s monthly report to the Cold Spring Village Board on Tuesday night, the Planning Board members stated a preference for the Post Office to relocate to the soon-to-be developed Butterfield property in Cold Spring—however, they lack authority to initiate such a move, the report stated.
 
Planning Board member Parge Sgro, seeing traffic complications with possible danger to pedestrians, was the dissenting vote on moving the Foodtown Plaza entrance to Benedict Street. He recommended to his colleagues a loop inside the parking lot that would keep cars searching for a parking space inside the parking lot rather than exiting and re-entering the lot for a space. He was outvoted.
 
Sgro also wanted postal trucks to eventually be parked within the customer parking lot, and the post office dock to be built in such a fashion as to keep the daily Post Office tractor-trailer from jutting-out into Marion Avenue. His concerns did not prevail.
 
Sgro was met with thanks from the Marion and Benedict residents after the meeting, feeling they had, at least, one ally in their cause.
 
“I have been a resident of Cold Spring for most of my life. My grandparents settled here in 1930 and opened a business at that time, a local grocery store. I have deep roots here and love this Village,” said Toni Sweet, one of the attendees.
 
“It pains me to see greed take on the guise of “for the good of the community.” This is what I believe is what is happening in the Foodtown and Post Office expansion agenda, Sweet said after the meeting. “I understand business and revenue and profit but when this comes at the expense of other citizens’ quality of life it needs to be tempered with compassion and common sense. Just look at the financial mess the country is in now. Have we not learned anything?”
 
In a December 13th press release from New York State Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, a 5-month moratorium was announced on the imminent closing of numerous Post Offices throughout the country. Closures were being scheduled due not only to national financial problems but also to the increasing reliance on computers. Communication is now via computer, as is bill paying even buying stamps can now be done online. UPS will pick up and deliver packages. Will the postal service go the way of the horse and buggy, some ask?
 
Why the Planners are disrupting an entire neighborhood to “save the Post Office” is the question fueling residents’ anger, especially Campanile, Henderson, Hogan, Sweet, and Kevin Gaugler , who noted, “I was surprised that the meeting centered around such specific aspects of Serroukas’s  site plan include the number of garbage cans and the placement of the flagpole. Naturally bigger items were addressed as well, but it seemed as if the most immediate concerns, traffic and safety did not nearly receive the attention I had expected,” he said.
 
Tom Campanile challenged the legality of the intended changes, and charged that enlarging the Foodtown store into a supermarket complex will violate Cold Spring’s Comprehensive Plan.
Campanile summed up the frustration felt by his neighbors in a statement Wednesday: “It is a sad state of affairs when our elected and appointed officials can spend untold hours and public hearings on items as inconsequential as “composting toilets” at the Foundry Park and then try and rush something as monumental as this through without engaging the community.”
 
The Foodtown/Post Office planned alterations will be the subject of the Tuesday, January 10th Cold Spring Planning Board meeting at 7:30 p.m. at Village Hall.

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