The probability of two new gas stations in Milan drew a chorus of approval as well as concern from residents who crowded Town Hall for the final public hearing on the issue.
The town board is expected to make a decision at its upcoming April 15 meeting on the proposed zoning code changes for the highway business district along Route 199, which would pave the way for a Mobil and Sunoco gas station within a mile of each other.
Seventy-five people showed up and 25 spoke up on March 18 at the hearing on the two code changes: to increase the maximum allowable size of a convenience store, from 2,500 sq ft. to 4,000 sq ft, and yo add the option of a drive-thru. Both developers of the stations — a Mobil to replace the burned-out one just off the Taconic Parkway, and a Sunoco next to Bayhorse Gazebos a mile further down — have submitted plans that include convenience stores.
At first, the board heard only positive feedback about the gas stations from town residents.
David Groth of Academy Hill Road supported the plans. “I do enjoy the rural character of the area here,” he said. “However, having to use a gallon of gas to buy gas, to drive to another town, is very wasteful. Even though [the proposed Sunoco station] is at the end of the road I live on, I feel it’s necessary at this time.”
“We are very supportive of these proposed changes,” said Ingrid Kulick, who has lived on Milan Hollow Road since 1975, citing friends and family traveling on the Taconic as her main reason. “It’s a little awkward to tell them they have to go nine miles into one of the neighboring towns to get gasoline… We see no problem with going to a larger square footage and certainly the drive thru,” she added.
David Byrne spoke “from a young family standpoint,” saying he supports a project that will bring jobs to the community and allow him to fill his car with gas without having to travel to neighboring towns. “With three young kids, that can be difficult… I’d rather spend my dollars here in Milan,” he said. He also expressed concern about the amount of gas wasted and pollution caused by cars traveling to other towns just to fill up with gas.
June Gosnell, of Round Lake Road, also supported the project “for most all of the reasons that people have already said.” She went on to say, “If the gas stations and convenience stores are asking us to increase their square footage, it’s probably for a reason. They have a lot of people… who figure out the best way for business to succeed… and that is probably the reason why they are asking for this… If the gas station and the store is not going to succeed, it’s not going to be worth it to do it.”
Allen LoBrutto of Academy Hill Road agreed there was a need for a gas station in town, and then drew attention to the square footage topic. He noted that out of 48 permitted uses in the highway business district, only one, a convenience store, is limited to 2,500 square feet. A grocery store, for example, is permitted a maximum of 5,000 square feet. “We’re actually talking about one business that is being kinda discriminated against, and I don’t think that’s right,” he said.
Some, like Michael Katz of Academy Hill Road, were in favor of the proposed changes but against the idea of more than one new gas station.
“I think having a gas station at the Mobil site is proper, appropriate and necessary. That is a location which has already had a gas station… I cannot understand having two gas stations within a mile from one another,” Katz said.
Several other residents shared his sentiment. Their objections were two-fold: that developing a new gas station on virgin land would be ill-advised and that the local population along with parkway traffic would not be able to support two gas stations, thus leaving one or the other open to failure.
However, the town board will have no control over how many gas stations are built, as long as each applicant goes through the necessary planning process.
Toward the end of the hearing, several people expressed concern about the changes in general.
Gina Fox, a Rhinebeck Town Board member who supports locating a gas station close to the Taconic, was opposed to any zoning change, “I’m asking you to look at the bigger picture… I urge you to retain the strength that you have in your town code in regard to rural character,” she said. “You are the entrance to the rest of the villages at the end of 199… This is what people see when they enter the Hudson Valley [from the Taconic].”
Anthony Cuccia of Quarryville Road thanked the town board for “smoothing the process for development.” He felt it was important to consider “responsible development and job creation,” but said that the current convenience store maximum was a “reasonable size for what the demand is: convenience.”
“This isn’t just a size issue, this is a usage issue,” added Julian Kaplin, a real estate lawyer who lives on Salisbury Turnpike. He said that a larger store would need to generate a certain amount of income in order to be successful. “You certainly will have more traffic, higher lighting issues, undoubtedly. These are things I just hope the town board considers very carefully before they make this decision for the entire [highway business] district, not just as an exception to one purveyor,” he said.
Rudy Barber worried that increasing the maximum square footage would allow for a drive thru or major coffee franchise, as others in the room had warned. “I really don’t want that to happen,” he said, explaining that he picks up about 300 pounds of litter on Milan Hollow Road each year, implying that more traffic through Milan would mean more litter.
“I can’t see that anyone who just simply wants to run a gas station and convenience store would be unhappy with 2,500 feet. It seems to the model,” said Evelyn Bartin of Torre Rock Road. She pointed out, as others had, that the Mobil station across from the Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck is 2,300 square feet. “It’s a perfectly sized convenience store. It has everything you need,” she said.
Ben Hoen of Sawmill Road spoke last and tried to sum up the proceedings this way: “If a vote were taken amongst the people that are here in the room, I think it would be clear what the decision would need to be, so I hope that the board listens to that consensus… Clearly, a gas station is wanted, but expanding it to allow other uses seems reckless.”
Meanwhile, Gallagher had made clear at the meeting’s outset that a third proposed zoning change — on parking in front of new stores — was not a topic on the agenda.
“We don’t want anyone to think a change to parking is being considered along with the other two items,” Gallagher said.