Story by Jennifer O’Connor
Residents packed the Warwick Town Hall on Thurs., Oct. 19 to attend a public hearing regarding John Christison’s site plan proposal to build Yesterday’s restaurant in a vacant lot at 16 Elm St. in the Village of Warwick. Although there was police presence, their assistance was not needed during the hearing as everyone behaved in a civil manner and listened to one another voice their opinions.
However, police did need to turn people away as there was a huge turnout that reached the maximum capacity of 222 people, having many standing in the room and in the hallway as well as sitting on the floor. A majority of those in attendance donned burgundy T-shirts with Yesterday’s logo showing support for Christison and his project, while opponents came prepared and in full force holding “No Bar” signs.
The Planning Board gave everyone an opportunity to be heard during the public hearing, which began at 7:30 p.m. and ended around 11:15 p.m. After the last person spoke, the hearing was closed with no decision being made. The Planning Board will review the issues and concerns residents have about the project and discuss them at their next meeting on Thurs., Nov. 16 at 7:30 p.m. in Village Hall, located at 77 Main St. in Warwick.
The site plan for the 3,600-sq. ft. restaurant has been before the Planning Board since January 2017, and will be located about 52 ft. from the backyard of a resident on Van Buren St. and about 45 ft. from the backyard of a resident on West St., where the zoning requires 10 feet. The plan includes a banquet room, dining and bar area, bathrooms, a porch with a portion of it enclosed, and a patio.
The porch will have speakers. There will be outside seating for 68 people on a patio, which will be open seasonally and closed after 11 p.m. There will be no live music outside. The capacity that includes outdoor and indoor seating is 202. There will be 45 parking spaces in a paved lot and 61 spaces in a land banked area.
During the nine-month review process, Christison, along with his engineer, Ross Winglovitz, and attorney, John Cappello, have revised the site plan along the way as per the recommendations of the Planning Board. Some of the revisions include: moving the patio forward and relocating the HVAC and dumpster away from the neighboring property line; reducing the lighting levels around building; adding more landscaping to provide an additional buffer such as Evergreen screening; and solid wood fencing for the purposes of security and to reduce noise and lighting.
Everything that Christison has agreed to will be on record, and if his application is approved, will also apply to any future restaurant business on that property. With all of the revisions made to the plan and following the review of the Environmental Assessment Form (EAF), the Planning Board adopted a negative declaration at their meeting in September, determining that the project will not have a significant adverse effect to the neighborhood.
Prior to comments from the public, Cappello presented a brief history about the property and explained that because the property was a former railroad yard, a Phase One Environmental testing had been submitted for the site. An environmental site investigation prepared by William L. Going and Associates, Inc., which analyzed soil samples taken on the site confirmed the findings of the prior study that concluded that as a result of this extensive investigation there was no evidence of volatile organic compounds or other chemical contaminate located on the site.
Cappello said a question was raised that because it was a historic railroad yard there might be something there of archeological significance. A tracker, which is a company that does archeological studies, did Phase 1A and 1B testing, which included digging and exploring test pits in certain areas of the site to determine whether there were any items of archeological significance present, and nothing was found.
“These tests were submitted to the Board and to the New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). They are experts whose job it is to preserve and protect archeological resources to review that plan and they issued a letter saying that based upon their determination there was no need for any additional work to be done,” said Cappello.
Cappello then spoke about a traffic study that was prepared by Philip Grealy, Phd, PE of Maser Consulting P.A., who determined that there would be no significant adverse impacts associated with this development. He then spoke about the concerns raised pertaining to noise and that music will be played to table speakers outside.
“We acknowledge that could potentially be an issue. The Village does have a noise ordinance. People see a certain interpretation of how the noise ordinance should be interpreted. A portion of the zoning code is hinged upon background in ambient noise so in the evening the ambient noise is less. If you read the code the way one of the commenters of the plan has read it – all of your commercial property along Main St. and in your entire Village actually is located within 200 feet of a residential district. Any person that closed a car door in any facility that had parking or anything at all you would be violating the code,” said Cappello.
About the speakers outside on the porch, Cappello said, “It has been recommended to measure the noise once we are up and operating. You measure noise when it’s made. If it is determined that we are above ambient levels with the speakers outside when this facility has opened up then we have agreed – and it will be in the record – that those speakers will either be relocated, additional buffering will be installed, or the speakers will be removed. That is the best way to address that situation.”
In closing, Cappello said there has been support from the Police Chief that in the 32 years John Christison has run Yesterdays there have been no incidents. His place has been run efficiently and he has been a good neighbor. He employs nine full-time people and five part-time.
“He will take a parking lot and will turn it into a tax ratable that will generate a fairly significant amount of taxes for the Village. He will turn the parking lot into a viable facility that many people will enjoy,” said Cappello.
After Cappello concluded and before the floor was opened to the public, Planning Board Chairman George Aulen asked David Getz, the Village Engineer, if he had any comments.
“I have a few comments,” replied Getz. “There needs to be clear notes on the plans regarding the noise and the process that Mr. Cappello mentioned that it will be measured and what measures will be taken to mitigate noise such as additional acoustic treatment or removing the speakers if necessary. We want to make sure that is clearly shown on the site plan.”
Noise is a Concern
When it was time for the public to speak, the reoccurring concern many people had pertained to noise. David Gordon, an environmental attorney, who has an office in Poughkeepsie, addressed the comment made by Cappello that noise is the sort of thing that is measured later. Gordon said that noise is something that is not incapable of assessing and can be measured now.
David Smith, a resident of the Village of Warwick for 23 years, who is an audio engineer, gave a demonstration on sound levels in reference to the Village code. During his 30 years of experience as an audio engineer he has many impressive credentials ranging from working with ABC, CBS, ESPN and HBO to performing surround sound for the Super Bowl.
“I eat, sleep and breathe audio. I garnered five Emmy awards in my last 30 years. My area of expertise is sound for film and television, and while I may not be an expert in measuring sound levels for legal compliance, I do know how to read a sound level meter and the Village of Warwick sound code,” said Smith.
Smith cited the Village’s sound code saying it is very strict and even stricter in residential areas especially between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. and all day on Sunday. He noted that according to the code, airplanes are exempted as are car doors slamming and cars driving away.
“There is nothing in here about sound pressure levels above an ambient noise floor,” said Smith, who did a sound demonstration using a Real Time Analyzer known as an RTA. “An RTA measures the sound pressure levels in decibels or octave bands.”
Smith calibrated his RTA to match the specifications prescribed in the Village code with the red bar representing the octave bands and the blue lines representing the maximum permissible decibel level for that octave band.
“Anytime any one of those red bars goes beyond the blue line, the level of the sound code has been exceeded. While this may not be as precise as what a noise compliance expert might use, it’s still highly accurate to demonstrate what our sound code looks like,” said Smith.
Smith created an audio CD to demonstrate what level of sound is permissible and what level is out of compliance. While playing the CD everyone was able to hear various sounds such as a restaurant exhaust fan and while lowering the sound it was still exceeding the code. The next track was of the sound of about 15 people on a patio at an outdoor restaurant. Another track was of music playing from tiny little speakers, and then a track of all three elements combined into one at 50 ft. away. He then played a track of the sound of a restaurant with all of its windows closed and people inside talking, the music playing and the exterior exhaust fan running.
“What we have been listening to is approximately 50 feet away from this meter. The same distance as the proposed structure to the nearest property line,” said Smith. “At this low volume we can see the Village sound code. These are not the sounds of a beer garden. It doesn’t take a rowdy crowd raising a ruckus. It takes a little bit of conversation, some light music and an exhaust fan 50-feet from the property line to make these sounds that the residents of this neighborhood are going to have to perpetually endure if this application goes forward.”
Smith continued, “No more quiet nights and peaceful enjoyment of their properties. While it’s the responsibility of this Board to study this issue thoroughly and ascertain whether or not this establishment could ever be in compliance with the Village zoning code, in my professional opinion, I have absolutely no doubt that if this bar is built it will consistently be in violation of that code.”
Smith further stated that the addition of trees and a fence might help to mitigate the sound slightly but not enough to matter. He then called on the Planning Board to observe the sound code they adopted and to reject Christison’s site plan application on the grounds that it will violate the sound code.
Rosanne Andreas, a resident of Cottage St., said she does not want Yesterday’s built on Elm St., and as far as noise levels goes she hears sounds from Railroad Ave.
“We hear it all and we do not want to hear a place like Yesterdays until 2 a.m. daily,” said Andreas.
The restaurant would be open Sun. through Thurs. from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. and on Fri. and Sat. from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Christison has said at previous meetings that he has no intention of staying open as late as 2 a.m. but didn’t want to be restricted to an earlier time in case there is the occasional late night crowd.
Music Doesn’t Play Loud at Yesterday’s
Lauren Buturla, a resident of Chester who was born and raised in Warwick her entire life, said she has been treated like family by John Christison.
“I always enjoy going to John’s place and the main reason I go to John’s place is because you don’t have to listen to the loud noise. You can go there, talk and have a conservation with everybody. There is never music playing loud,” said Buturla. “There’s never a problem there. I get that it’s in between their houses and I understand that, but John’s establishment isn’t that kind of an establishment. And until you step foot in John’s establishment, I don’t think anyone can judge it for that. He’s a good person of this community and has helped us all out.”
Concerned About Declining Property Values
Many of those who are opposed to the project have stated that they have a great deal of respect for Christison as he is a well-respected and conscientious member of the business community. Their argument is with the proposed new Yesterdays and the harm it would inflict on those homeowners whose property borders its planned site.
Residents are concerned with its close proximity to the backyards of those who reside on Van Buren and West Streets and the impact it will have on those residents, and on the surrounding neighborhood.
“The placement of the proposed structure is not in keeping with the adjoining neighborhood. If you haven’t stood in those backyards you can’t imagine how close it’s going to be,” said Edward Sattler, a resident of N. Lynn St. “Just because a place is zoned commercial/industrial doesn’t mean that you can build exactly what it is you wish to be there. For a project to sit in what is now the buffer zone to me just seems ludicrous.”
This sentiment was echoed by Patrick Gallagher, whose backyard on West St. borders the property line of the proposed project. Gallagher said that if the zoning is interpreted with the neighborhood in mind it does not support the proposal.
He further questioned, “How could a proposal with 20 times the lighting and a building with three to four times the size of the residents that surround it on three sides – Elm St., West St. and Van Buren – have no impact? Can any member of this Board look me in the eye and state for the record that this proposal will have no impact on the neighborhood and the community?”
Tom Andreas, a 20-year resident of Cottage St., said that like his neighbors his home is his most valuable possession both emotionally and financially.
“The lots on my street are small. They are only 50 feet wide and I learned quickly just how important it is to have good neighbors. A loud and thoughtless neighbor can single-handedly ruin the quality life of everyone on the entire street,” said Andreas. “I came to Warwick because it has a reputation of a peaceful, rural, yet vibrant Village life. It’s a great place to raise a family but now this seems to be in question with this proposed intrusion of a 3,600-sq. ft. restaurant/bar in the middle of an established neighborhood.”
“There are dozens of families whose lives will change forever and whose property values will diminish if the plans are approved,” said Andreas.
Andreas’ wife, Rosanne, said, “Driving is also a concern. I can hear people burning rubber on Elm St. No doubt there will be some people leaving Yesterdays on Elm St. with one too many drinks and God forbid if they have an accident with a Jones Chemical delivery truck carrying toxic chemicals – we will be toast.”
‘What If This Plan Doesn’t Go Through?’
Christopher Smith, a Maple Ave. resident, said that over the past 25 years that he and his family have been residents of Warwick they have seen many changes.
“The Warwick of 25 years ago is certainly not the Warwick we see today. We have gotten to be more of a retail and dining experience. And yes, that has brought people from the outside. People who have had that experience have come and bought houses in this area,” said Smith. “We see buildings that are fully occupied and a tax base that is positive. If I look at the property, it’s unfortunate because I hear everyone’s points of view. At the same time, as a resident of Warwick, I look at what could happen to this property if this plan does not go through.”
Christison’s purchase of the property is contingent on him receiving site plan approval. The property is currently owned by Frank Petrucci, Lynn Crane and Glenn Petrucci, and is zoned light industrial. Besides an eating and drinking establishment, the zoning allows other types of businesses such as a gasoline service station, automobile sales and service, car wash; hotels/motels; public utility facilities; manufacturing/assembly/finishing; health club; medical offices; retail stores; theatre/cinemas; indoor recreation such as batting cages; and business/professional/government offices, etc.
“If I look at the reality that if something is going to go on this property I would rather have it be somebody who is a good citizen and who has taken a number steps to address the concerns of those people involved,” added Smith. “It’s an empty lot right now. I paid taxes in the Village of Warwick which are not low. It would be nice to have an increased tax base and additional people being employed.”
Issues with Traffic Study
John Maxcy, a resident of West St., said that the traffic study was insufficient in that it was conducted on West St. and Elm St., ignoring the entrance and exit of the Mitchel Corners Shopping Center and the entrance and exit of the car wash – all within 60 feet of the entrance to the proposed development.
“Also, and more importantly, the study ignored a residential neighborhood with more than 70 residential homes south of the tracks in the other direction on Campbell Rd., Hamilton Ave., Welling Ave., Oakland Ct., and Orchard St., including an offset four way stop sign at the intersection of Orchard St. and Elm St.”
Margaret McNeely, of Welling Ave., also addressed the Board about the traffic study and asked that there be a “full traffic” study.
Fred Schwiekert said, “I don’t live in your town,” as those in attendance laughed while a member of the audience said, “Well, welcome to Warwick.”
“However, I have been eating in John’s place since I moved to New York State back in 1999,” said Schwiekert. “I am a retired chef. He used to come to my place, the Duck Cedar Inn. John has had a consistently good restaurant. He doesn’t have a shot glass in his restaurant. It’s a family place. He and Peggy run a real clean restaurant with good food and a nice atmosphere.”
“I heard a lot of talk tonight about traffic and what not. Traffic always sells itself as everybody knows – you driven in this Town, you got traffic, you got to deal with it. So to me that was idle talk. There has never been a drunk driving ticket issued as a result of someone leaving his restaurant. You can ask the police department that,” said Schwiekert. “Everybody has their little aspect or their ‘you can’t build it in my backyard’ but what happens when your neighbor has a loud party.”
Questions About the Environmental Assessment Report
Caroline Martin, of Cottage St., who is a groundwater chemist, spoke to the Board about a letter she submitted regarding the environmental assessment report compiled by William L. Going and Associates, Inc. In her letter written on Sept. 7 of this year she stated that the report contained significant inadequacies and errors. William Going refuted her claims about arsenic in the drinking water in a letter on Sept. 14 – both are on file at Village Hall. In Going’s report he wrote: “There was no reportable concentration of arsenic in the sample, which was groundwater and not drinking water.”
In response to Going’s reply, Martin said, “If you dig a hole in the ground there is an environmental impact and the purpose of an environmental investigation is merely to assess the degree of that impact. It should be impartial, objective and thorough. The first important goal of a site investigation report should be the characterization of the environment. Basic topics like current land use, vehicular access, railways, electrical supply networks, historical land use, the topography, the slope of the land, geology – what is the bedrock?,” said Martin. “It wasn’t mentioned in the environmental report. For the first time in my career I encountered an official report concerning groundwater that fails to specify the depth at which the ground water was recovered from.”
Steve Gross, of Colonial Ave., a professional environmental planner, said he submitted a letter to the Board in which he explains why the issuance of a negative declarative on this project is in violation of SEQR.
“I implore each of you to read that letter. I strongly recommend that this Board rescind the negative declaration and require the preparation of an environmental impact statement that would be subject to public scrutiny and comment,” said Gross.
‘It’s Not About Opinions, It’s About Facts’
One of the last to speak at the hearing was Jim Sciarra, a 60-year resident of Warwick, who resides on S. Lynn St.
“When I purchased my house on S. Lynn St. in the Village of Warwick, one of the first things my wife and I did was to analyze what was around us. And what was around us was probably the biggest concern that maybe people overlook, and that was Jones Chemical,” said Sciarra.
“It was a tough thing bringing up a family, but I made the decision when I purchased my house, knowing that this factory was basically in my backyard. I speak with a heavy heart because I know some of these people and their hardships. I am not here because Christison is a good guy. I am speaking to the Board because I want them to do what is right, and not based on everyone’s feelings,” said Sciarra.
“Are the setbacks the proper way? Do you feel the traffic study was done? You guys are the professionals, and if they were done the right way, and the environmental was done the right way – I think you have your facts to make your decision,” said Sciarra.
About those who spoke about issues with noise, he said, while pointing at Cappello, “Maybe I listened to the lawyer here differently then what some other people heard. I heard him say they will take care of it if it’s too noisy. I appreciate the professionalism with the sound person, but if there is no noise there now how can I take care of what’s not there. How do I assess something that is not there? Put it in documents that it has to be handled.”
“Warwick is a great Town and I love my Village. I live within sound distance and walking distance of Elm St. I just ask that you guys do the right thing. You guys know the code, the setbacks – it’s not about opinions it’s about facts,” concluded Sciarra.
Next Meeting on Nov. 16
The Board will review all of the comments and documents submitted by residents at the next Planning Board meeting on Thurs., Nov. 16 at 7:30 p.m. in Village Hall, located at 77 Main St. in Warwick.