A proposed mixed-use development at the corner of Cabot and Vestry Street is drawing fierce opposition from neighbors who say the three-story building will add to current safety concerns in the area.
The proposal from Holloran Development LLC includes a roughly 15,000-square foot building, with two commercial storefronts on the first floor on Cabot Street, and 13 apartments on the two floors above. The site has been vacant since the Tompkins Furniture building burned down in the 1973.
At a planning board meeting on Tuesday night dotted with irate outbursts and people speaking out of turn, area residents vehemently opposed the development for a number of reasons, including the size of the building, additional traffic in the area and parking.
But safety stood out above all.
"Emergency access is virtually impossible at this point, and that is our biggest concern," said Pamela Liberge, a resident of Vestry Street.
The planning board will take up the proposal again at 8:30 p.m. on September 11 at the Senior Center.
The issue with neighbors is the size of Vestry Street - which they say impedes the ability of fire trucks and emergency workers to quickly and safely navigate down the small, dead-end road - and the fact that it has no sidewalks.
Elizabeth Veliaj lives at 144 Cabot Street, but the entrance to her home - which is actually behind the Cielito Lindo restaurant - is located on Vestry Street. She recounted for the board the time her husband, Bujar, had a heart attack and emergency workers could not get down the street requiring her to instead "drag him out" to them.
Residents fear that a development of this size would only exacerbate such existing issues.
"If fire trucks can't get around there, and then there's more cars there that are going to park in front of my house - and it's very hard for a fire truck to even get down that street when people aren't parking there, and now you're going to have all these [new residents] and their friends parking there - I want to know, how can they assure the safety of our neighborhood, and are they going to bring back the people that get burned in a fire," asked Dale Acciavatti, a resident of Elm Street. "Do they have the ability to bring them back? Because the fire truck can't get around there and it takes 10 minutes to find the person who's car is blocking and is illegally parked, which happens right now."
Richard Dinkin, chair of the planning board, assured neighboring residents that pre-existing conditions - such as the size of Vestry Street and the lack of sidewalks - are not the responsibility of the developer to address, but will certainly be considered in the board's decision.
Contributing to the safety issue for residents is parking. They feel that the one parking space-per-unit that the developer plans to provide in an adjacent lot is not enough, and will result in a high volume of parking on the nearby streets. Of the 13 units proposed, 12 are two-bedroom.
But a city ordinance allows the developer to count public lots within a certain distance as resident parking in their plan, in essence making it another pre-existing situation that is not up for debate with the planning board.
"[The ordinance] is an issue for the city council to address if someone brings a valid petition," said planning board member David Mack. "It's not for us to decide whether that ordinance is valid or not, appropriate or not...maybe it should be looked at, but it's not the applicant's job to revise the statute."
But residents feel there is an easy solution to avoid the possible complications caused by these pre-existing conditions.
"Perhaps they should either not build a building so large there, or not build a building there that is totally inaccessible," Liberge said.
Ryan Mooney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.