Planning Board approves site plan for Erie Blvd. West car wash

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Rome Planning Board approved the State Environmental Quality Review and site plan review for Hoffman Development Corp. of Albany to build a 6,400 square foot car wash at 1315 Erie Blvd. W., the site of the former West Rome School, during its monthly meeting Tuesday.

Despite opposition from community members and representatives of Rome Historical Society and Oneida County Historian Joseph Bottini declaring it’ s an historic site that should be preserved, city officials and the board said legally, there are no reason why the project cannot move forward.

Deputy Director of Community and Economic Development Matthew J. Andrews answered questions throughout the meeting, adding that the project met all city codes, as well as construction and safety guidelines.

Prior to comments from city officials and board members, however, Andrews read comments submitted by the public, all in opposition to building a car wash at the site.

“Please don’t allow another historic Rome building to be destroyed,” commented Kathleen Haley, of Phoenix, Ariz. and formerly of Lee, suggesting there are more appropriate places in the city to build the car wash. She questioned whether the city had learned anything from construction and revitalization projects downtown.

Michael Rescigno said it doesn’t come down to the question of whether Rome needs another car wash, but asked why it needs to be done at the expense of an historic building, requesting that Hoffman change their plans.

One resident said just because the former West Rome School is not on the historic roles, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be. He mentioned the significant renovations happening at the Capitol Theatre currently, and how that building is only eight years older than the former West Rome School.

“It still has all the original architecture and it can stand proud for the next 100 years-plus if you’ll allow it,” the local resident said. Fellow former students “think this proposal is a travesty to the community.”

Those in opposition of the project, as a group, “got an attorney and through that attorney, they have offered to buy the property back,” he said. “Just because this building can be destroyed doesn’t mean it should be. Listen to your community — those who live here and pay taxes here. Too much has been destroyed already.”

William Rapke, who has previously spoken out against the demolition of the former West Rome School, said Hoffman’s plans are “flawed in several aspects” and their “supporting documents are not complete.”

“They stated that they consulted with local authorities about the historical significance of the building, but this has never been done,” said Rapke. He went on to say there were also traffic concerns in the area with the potential for an increased number of accidents at the intersection, as well as questions about wastewater and its impact on the wetlands of the property.

It was also mentioned that through Change.org, Rapke collected more than 1,300 signatures from those in favor of saving the former school.

“Please don’t continue the mistakes of the past,” he said, adding that County Historian Joseph Bottini also wrote a column published in the local newspaper speaking on behalf of saving the former school from demolition and preserving local historic sites.

After comments were read, Gavin Vuillaume, landscape architect with Environmental Design Partnership, which is serving as the civil engineer for 1315 Erie Blvd. W. car wash and the proposed car wash at 1727 Black River Blvd., ran down items in the site plan that were questioned during the February Planning Board meeting.

Vuillaume said they did have a sign-off letter addressing the board’s concerns about an archaeological study done at the site, stating there was no archaeological or “architectural resource impact,” and that Hoffman was clear to develop the site.

Another question from the last board meeting that Vuillaume addressed was the use of the existing limestone from the West Rome School and incorporating that into the project. He said the limestone would be used as part of the detailing for the business sign, as well as part of the historic marker that Hoffman offered to place in front of the property, marking the location of the former West Rome School.

“We’re proposing to make an improvement to the sidewalk and create a small sitting area with a couple of benches” on either side of the marker, Vuillaume said.

Planning Board Chairman Mark Esposito then asked if the group would like to address some of the public comments made.

“The building was for sale for several years...the whole place was kind of remodeled inside by the veterinary clinic and with the asbestos pollution, it would cost over $100,000 to remove,” said Tom Hoffman Jr., owner of Hoffman Car Wash & Jiffy Lube, in reference to what it would take to save the building.

“Plus we’re doing our due diligence. We checked on the historical significance” of the site “and we invested a lot of time and energy and look forward to continue with construction to start in the summer, with the opening in the fall.”

As for an offer from opposers of the project to buy back the building, “Their attorney contacted us and I responded that we were not interested in selling it,” Hoffman said. “She didn’t make a monetary offer, and I didn’t get a response from her, so I’m not sure where that stands.”

Hoffman also offered that if the city had other ideas as for the placement of the historic marker, green space and seating area, that they were open to suggestions.

“I have empathy for the people who went to school there, but this is a private building and sale, and there’s nothing in the city or federal statutes — nothing to justify the board not to approve this project and issue a SEQR negative declaration that I can see,” said Chairman Esposito.

In his comments to the board, Andrews stated that the SEQR and site plan are consistent with land use and zoning regulations, that it wouldn’t “adversely affect the volume of traffic, there’s no negative impact to the existing facilities or changes to natural resources” and “it’s not anticipated to create a hazard to environmental resources or human health.”

Andrews said, “The proposed action will result in the removal of a structure that’s valuable to some members of the community, but there’s no established local laws” to prevent the project from being approved. The building rests “outside the boundaries of the local historical district... and it’s been determined not to be eligible for the Registry of Historic Places.”

Andrews also added that because Hoffman Development has not accepted (federal) funds for the project, they are not required to restore or protect the property.

“They offered to use the existing stone as part of the project and are proposing an historical marker that matches the existing pavers in the right of way,” he said. “And the historical marker was developed in good faith.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Hoffman also offered to have RHS Executive Director Arthur L. Simmons III come visit the site before demolition and construction begins, with a projected start in the spring.

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