Story by Katie Krahulik
Village of Warwick residents continued to show their disapproval regarding the new location of Yesterdays restaurant during the Privilege of the Floor at the Village of Warwick Board meeting on Mon., Jun. 5.
For months, John Christison, the owner of Yesterdays restaurant, has been going before the Village of Warwick Planning Board with a site plan application to build a 3,600 sq. ft. restaurant, located on the upper portion of a vacant lot at 16 Elm St. in the Village of Warwick, near the backyards of homes on West and Van Buren Streets.
Despite Christison’s efforts during an informational session he held on Sat., May 13 to reassure neighbors, residents and community members that he would do his best to compromise with surrounding homeowners, a crowd of more than 40 concerned residents gathered in Village Hall to express complaints to the Village Board.
The main issues of concern included noise pollution, environmental hazards, traffic issues, and road safety. Village resident Tom Andreas was worried about the proposed speakers which are expected to be mounted on the outdoor porch of the restaurant. He said he is anticipating loud music until 2 a.m. most nights of the week.
“To the people who live here, this is a real game changer. I can’t imagine selling my house if I was adjacent to this. What would I have to do to sell that house with this thing in my backyard?” said Andreas. “I would never buy a house with this in the backyard.”
Other residents, such as Judith Dickinson, of Van Buren St., are concerned with the environmental impacts of the restaurant, suggesting that the Village reserve the space for a more sustainable project such as a solar farm. The property is zoned light industrial which legally condones the construction of the business.
Mayor Newhard explained that we can’t choose our neighbors in a democracy. He said, “We can’t go through a selection every time of who we want sitting next to us because that’s not how we do it in America. But what we do is we understand the differences and we try to work through those differences and make it work for everyone. I would love to put solar panels on that property, but it is being purchased by someone else,” said Mayor Newhard.
As the father of two small children, Eric Boberg was very concerned with how the restaurant would cause traffic congestion and safety risks in the area.
“I’m hoping there is some consideration for speed bumps or some type of method to address people speeding through the neighborhood, especially after a night of drinking,” said Boberg.
Patrick Gallagher asked the Board directly to amend the local law to such that the Planning Board would be required to hold a public hearing before making a determination of significance in the SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review) process for commercial projects adjacent to residential zones.
Gallagher made this request on the premise that neighboring communities contain such laws in their SEQR procedures, including Hyde Park and many others. Mayor Michael Newhard explained that the Board could not make any promises that night, but that they would speak with their legal counsel to find out whether such action is within their legal jurisdiction.
Currently in the Village of Warwick when an applicant is going through the Planning Board process there are 13 pages of questions that the applicant is required to answer as part of the SEQR process. The Planning Board reviews these answers and if they have any questions they will ask the applicant to elaborate. If they have no questions and everything looks good, then they will proceed with the process and a public hearing will follow. If, at the public hearing, the public raises issues or questions that the Planning Board deems relevant for consideration, then they can keep the public hearing open to address those concerns. It can remain open for 62 days.
During the Village Board meeting Trustee Eileen Patterson said she attended a “backyard tour” held by Gallagher on Wed., May 31 that was also attended by concerned residents. Trustee Patterson posed the question, “Does the Planning Board have the option to allow public comment before the SEQRA process is finalized?”
The response provided by Robert Dickover, the Planning Board attorney, was that, “If this project receives a positive declaration during the SEQR review, the planning board can and probably will require a draft EIS (DEIS) (Draft Environmental Impact Statement), when it is completed, the public will have a minimum of 30 days to comment. The board will also determine whether to conduct a public hearing on the DEIS. If there is a public hearing on the DEIS, it can but does not have to be conducted at the same time as the public hearings on the site plan application. The Planning Board will make that determination. If the project does not receive a positive declaration, the only public hearing during which the public comment will be received will be at the public hearing on the site plan publication. If during that hearing new information comes to the Board, which was not considered by the Board during the SEQR determination, the Board can reopen the SEQR review process to take the new or added information into account and if warranted, change its environmental determination.”
As part of the process, the Environmental Assessment Statement (EAS) is discussed out loud at the Planning Board meeting prior to the public hearing, which is then scheduled after the EAS is reviewed. The SEQR review has not yet been completed for this project.
John Maxi said to the Village Board that he is stunned that the Village would allow for the construction of a commercial structure of the proposed size and scope on Elm St. He is concerned about the future nature of the Village of Warwick.
“Do you choose to hear us? It is a choice. We are asking that you force yourselves out of your comfort zones and join us outside of ours. Do the right thing; leave an honorable legacy and an intact Village,” said Maxi.
The Board reminded residents that they still had options to be heard and urged anyone with concerns to continue to write letters to the Village Planning Board. Newhard told residents that the Board would speak with their legal council as to some of the questions they raised.