Traffic on Lawton and Washburn roads remained a central theme to many, but not all, of the comments at a Zoning Commission hearing Monday about proposed zoning changes for the corner of Lawton Road and Route 44.
The hearing addressed Konover Development Corporation’s proposed regulation and master plan amendment for the property, which it plans to anchor with a pharmacy. The hearing included a presentation by Konover, some questions from commissioners and remarks from residents, a consultant hired by the town and town planner Neil Pade.
Due to the length of the proceedings, the hearing was continued to the commission’s April 20 meeting, which will give residents another chance to speak and Konover the chance to address concerns raised.
The proposed changes would be made to the Albany Turnpike Gateway District-2 regulations that govern the site. If the changes are approved, the company would next file a site plan for the property.
Konover has existing approvals for the site but now seeks to spread development over three smaller areas from the previously approved two and add the public access to Lawton Road. The company said the pharmacy requires the access and will not come to the site without it.
That has been the sticking point with many residents, some of whom spoke Monday. Many said the access will add to traffic on Lawton and Washburn roads.
Abby Feller said the roads are already used as cut-throughs and the proposal would make it worse. She said, for example, that people would cut through the development to get off Route 44.
“It gives them another opportunity to get off 44 and get on to Lawton Road,” she said.
And residents say they already contend with speeding, reckless drivers and heavy traffic.
David Gilchrist Jr. provided the commission with state Department of Transportation data showing that in 2007, Lawton Road averaged 6,600 daily trips, more than Route 179, a state road, and popular town roads like Simonds Avenue, East Hill and Dyer Avenue.
He also contended the access would aggravate the situation.
“I should say I do support development of the property but not access from Lawton Road,” Gilchrist said.
Speakers at the hearing also included residents and organizations that generally support the project, including the Canton Chamber of Commerce, the town’s Economic Development Agency and Canton Advocates for Responsible Expansion.
Economic Development Agency Chairman Joseph Danajovits said the proposal would benefit residents in many ways and bring in $3.4 million in revenue to the town in a 15-year period.
A representative of Canton Advocates for Responsible Expansion said the proposal would have less impact than any previous ones.
“It is understandable if an initial, instinctive reaction to this suggestion is to assume that such an access might negatively impact conditions on Washburn and Lawton roads,” Canton Advocates for Responsible Expansion member Donna Burkhardt read from a letter approved by the organization. “However, the size, and tenants, of the proposed buildings make it unlikely that this development would become a regional draw, as Konover’s initial big-box application for this site would have been . . ."
Konover has had numerous proposals for the site over the years, all of which did not materialize for various reasons.
Konover and its consultants estimate the development, when completed, would generate 3,930 entrances and exits a day, which equals about half that number in vehicles. Only about 5 percent of that number represents traffic coming from the north, according to the company’s estimates.
The company and its consultants also tout the latest plan as the best for the site and said spreading the development into three areas would provide less impact and smaller parking areas.
Many residents, including several who oppose the access, still agree that the plan is the best one yet.
Although she said she doesn’t trust the company, Theresa Sullivan Barger said it is the best plan so far.
“I think the development is much improved,” she said.
But Barger said she believes the company can find tenants who don’t require access to Lawton. She, along with others, also spoke against some of the Lawton Road improvements, such as two right-hand turn lanes to Route 44 that the company says will improve traffic circulation.
“Widening roads does not improve things,” she said. “It makes more people use the roads.”
Also at the meeting was Joseph C. Balskus, director of traffic and parking for Tighe & Bond, a firm hired by the town to report on the findings of the developer’s traffic consultant.
While Balskus has suggested changes to the development, such as raised crosswalks to curtail cut-through traffic, he generally agreed that the access to Lawton would not significantly increase traffic on Lawton and Washburn.
While he acknowledged the roads are used for cutover traffic, he said the cars accessing the site from the north would do so whether the driveway was there or not. He also contends that cars turning left on to Route 44 has not significantly increased because of the nearby Shoppes at Farmington Valley. Additionally, the two right turn lanes to 44 would not necessarily get traffic through the road more quickly but rather add to the “storage capacity of the road” and keep traffic from stacking up as far on Lawton, he said.
“It just provides more storage,” he said.
Balskus also reiterated his belief that the access does not significantly change patterns from the existing approved plan.
In his remarks to the commission, Pade said the biggest challenge is deciphering how the plan would change traffic, neighborhood character and other factors from the approved plan. Because the site is not developed, it is hard to imagine what would be there under the current approvals, he said.
“It’s so hard to visualize the approved conditions on this site,” he said.