The city Planning Board tabled motions to approve the State Environmental Quality Review and site plan review for Hoffman Development Corp. of Albany to build a car wash at 1315 Erie Blvd. W., but members indicated they saw no reason for preventing the project from moving forward.
There has been community opposition, as well as from representatives of Rome Historical Society, to demolish the current building on the site, known as the former West Rome School, due to its historical significance and value.
Planning Board Chairman Mark Esposito said tabling the SEQR and site plan reviews for consideration during the March 2 meeting will allow additional time for community members to make public comments about the project. Hoffman Development proposes to construct a 6,400 square-foot car wash at the site. At the start of the meeting, Esposito indicated to fellow board members that Hoffman purchased the 1315 Erie Blvd. W. property back in the summer.
Also present for the virtual meeting was Tom Hoffman Jr., owner of Hoffman Car Wash & Jiffy Lube, as well as Marty Andrews, director of development for Hoffman.
During discussion, Andrews indicated how Hoffman had been requested to look at fencing that encompasses the site, and said fencing would go down both sides of the property to the front property line.
Fencing was not planned for the rear of the property because it’s a wooded area, and city officials don’t foresee any development occurring there. There are also plans to push snow to the rear of the parcel.
Andrews said Hoffman received comments from the fire department about the lack of a hydrant at the property or in the vicinity, and requested that a hydrant be placed at the front of the parcel at the edge of Erie Boulevard.
“A new hydrant would be helpful for our property and the surrounding properties,” said Andrews.
Updated plans also include a parking area at the back of the property for employees, as well as an island with a tree.
Because of the possibility of the site being “highly sensitive for possible archaeological artifacts,” Andrews said Hoffman hired an archaeological service to test the area, and Phase 1A and Phase 1B of testing at the site found no artifacts, including areas that are not developed. He said a copy of the archaeological firm’s field letter was sent to city Deputy Director of Community and Economic Development Matthew J. Andrews.
“We’re confident that we’ll get a no-impact letter from SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office),” said Andrews.
Asked about the facade of the building, Andrews said Hoffman Development is considering placing an historical sign or marker at the front of the site that would talk about the history for visitors who may come to the property. Planning Board members said they felt it would be a “nice thing” to add the marker for the community.
“We’re open to an historical marker along the sidewalk so people can stop and read it,” Andrews said. “We have a similar site (in another municipality) that is also along the Erie Canal that we’ve done that for, so we’re open to doing something to that affect.” Andrews further described that the sign could be a blue state historical marker, which could include a picture of the (current) building and some historical facts.
Planning board members then asked if not placing fencing at the rear of the property would fail to separate the property from the Erie Canalway Trail connector, but Deputy Director Matt Andrews said the trail utilizes the existing towpath, which is a “good distance away” from the property line.
Following a description of the site plan, public comments by some community members were read aloud voicing their opposition to Hoffman’s proposal.
Local residents described the former West Rome School as a “significant historic treasure,” with encouragement for the city to consider schools among its historic resources.
“I don’t favor (Hoffman having) two car washes in Rome, and I don’t see how a car wash could benefit that part of Rome,” said Tina Rescigno, of Crestview Lane.
Lynn Keener, formerly of Rome, said the city should consider buildings that have “beaten the test of time.”
“Car washes come and go, but this school is part of Rome’s history,” she said. “Once it’s torn down, you can’t replace this piece of history.”
Gregory Lang questioned how the city and elected officials could consider a proposal from a corporation that has “no serious investment” in the city.
“So here we’re sacrificing a piece of ourselves for a corporation...Local business owners are struggling to keep afloat during the pandemic and they’re more invested in the community than Hoffman, but when some corporation comes in, we bend down on one knee.” Lang went on to further urge the city to consider the current building as an office space, gallery or cafe. “What’s next, tear down Fort Stanwix to make a parking lot?,” he asked.
Joanne McPherson also asked that the property be used for a different purpose, “not a car wash — I see it being a nightmare for traffic.”
Chairman Esposito said community members “made some good points, and obviously there’s a lot of emotions and people see it as a piece of history, but from my perspective, the property already passed from one private entity to another. It’s already been before zoning, and what they’re proposing is something within city codes. There’s really no justification or basis for the board to not work with Hoffman or vote on their plan.”
Esposito further stated, “It complies with city design standards, and there’s nothing here the Planning Board can’t approve as a site plan based on this building, which is not even eligible to be on the state (historic) register. I feel for all the people that it’s a nice looking building, but there’s no basis for the Planning Board to deny the project moving forward.”
But until the city receives official correspondence from the State Historic Preservation Office, Deputy Director Matt Andrews asked that the SEQR and site plan review be tabled to the next Planning Board meeting, with members voting unanimously to move the items to the March meeting.
Esposito also asked that at the next meeting, Hoffman provide information on what the masonry work for the business sign would look like, and a rendering of the historic marker.
As for the proposal to place an historical marker at the site, “I think the gesture is being made in good faith, and it’s not required by city codes” for Hoffman to include the marker, Esposito added.
In other business:
• The SEQR review and site plan review for a 7,500 square-foot storage building at 122 Otis St. by C2C Construction were also tabled to the March 2 meeting.