Ballston – Members of the Burnt Hills Fire District were divided over the revised proposal from the Zaremba Group to build a CVS Pharmacy on land next to the fire station at Wednesday’s regular meeting of the Ballston Planning Board.
The proposed CVS would be built on the former site of the Old Homestead Restaurant at 120 Lakehill Rd. and would replace the existing CVS store on Route 50. Stefanie Bitter, attorney for Bartlett, Pontiff, Stewart & Rhodes, P.C. presented the project which is being developed by the Zaremba Group.
The site consists of 4.6 acres with frontage on Lakehill Road. Developers from the Zaremba Group have proposed purchasing an easement from the fire district. This would allow developers to connect the CVS parking lot to Route 50 through the fire department’s property utilizing the entrance to the left of the building.
Under the easement agreement proposed by the Zaremba Group, CVS would pay the district $285,000 for the easement, in addition to giving the district a boundary line adjustment, 1.89 acres of land with a paved parking area behind the fire department, and the choice to have the fire department’s septic tank replaced or compensated in the amount equal to the cost for replacement.
The Board of Fire Commissioners for the fire district previously granted informal approval for the easement agreement by a vote of three to two. This enabled the Zaremba Group to continue the review process before the Planning Board. The Zaremba Group is seeking State Environmental Quality Review approval, which is needed before the fire commissioners can vote to formally approve the project. The project would then need to be voted on in a public referendum.
Following passage of the referendum the Zaremba Group would then return to the Planning Board for site plan approval. The proposed building would be 13,225 square feet, with 58 parking spaces, a drive through window, and access to the parking lot from both Lakehill Road and Route 50. Access from Route 50 would be limited to right hand turns both in and out of the lot.
Former fire commissioner, fireman, and current resident of the town, Carl Thurnau, said that the proposed easement was “ill advised” for the fire department as it would “create massive traffic trouble.” Thurnau questioned the assessment from a traffic study completed by Creighton Manning Engineering in December, saying that traffic volumes were much higher during the current time of year.
Allanna Moran of Creighton Moran Engineering reviewed the findings of the traffic study at the meeting. According to the traffic study the CVS would generate approximately 79 new vehicle trips during peak hours, which would be in the evening for CVS. This would cause an estimated delay increase of 14.5 seconds. Under state guidelines these are acceptable impacts. During non-peak hours the impact would be lower.
Thurnau also questioned whether there would be sufficient signing to ensure that drivers would take only right hand turns in and out of the CVS parking lot from Route 50.
Allen Colyer, who has been with the fire department for 56 years, raised concerns that drivers would cut through the fire department’s main entrance to reach CVS during heavy traffic. The main entrance to the station is further north on Route 50 than the area of the easement, if drivers used this entrance to reach CVS they would pass directly in front of the fire house.
Colyer said, “We’ve got a real serious situation here. You’re sharing an easement or a right of way for emergency responders with the general retail public. It’s a bad idea.”
David Bevins, who has been with the department for 45 years, said that traffic is already an issue for emergency responders. Bevins said that when he was trying to reach the fire house to respond to a call last week, he had to sit through three cycles at the traffic light due to bus traffic from the middle school. He expressed concerns that the problem would be worsened by the construction of a CVS at the intersection.
Bevins also presented the board with a petition signed by 33 of the 53 firefighters with the department against the proposed easement. He said that the complaint was not against CVS. “We just don’t want the traffic going in and out of our fire station, because we can’t manage it.” He noted that the station is unattended unless the firefighters are responding to a call, so no one would be present to prevent drivers from blocking their access to the station.
Fire department member, Mitch Ramsey, spoke in favor of the proposal saying that he had never had an issue entering the fire department and that the signatures on the petition turned in by Bevins had been collected months prior, long before anyone had seen the site plans.
Ramsey added that the additional parking behind the firehouse would be beneficial for hosting community events and would likely provide enough space for helicopters to land.
Fireman Matthew Lukes said that he agreed with traffic concerns, but that he, like Ramsey, rarely had issues entering the department. He added that if everyone worked together any possible issues could be addressed.
Members of the Planning Board also expressed concerns regarding delivery traffic to the store and asked for additional information on when deliveries would be scheduled.
The Planning Board did not take any action on the proposed project at the meeting. Bitter said that she and the developers would appear before the board at next month’s meeting with responses to the public comments and information about deliveries.