Guilderland hamlet to get 190-foot-long car wash?

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
Richard Hameroff, left, and engineer Brett Steenburgh address Guilderland’s planning board on March 27. Hameroff is under contract to buy and will soon close on property across from the Route 20 traffic light by Market 32 and the State Employees Federal Credit Union, where he hopes to build a car wash. 

GUILDERLAND — The owner of an auto-repair shop in Menands hopes to build a large car wash in Guilderland, across Western Avenue from the State Employees Federal Credit Union and Market 32. The town’s planning board recommended the project to the zoning board, with a number of conditions, at the end of a meeting in which planning-board members had expressed many reservations.

For instance, referencing the size of the proposed car wash on a site that has several wetlands and is bordered by steep slopes, Chairman Stephen Feeney said at the March meeting, “It’s almost like creating your own problem. There are a lot of car washes that are 100 or 120 feet long.”

Feeney told The Enterprise, “We’re not the lead, so we don’t want to get too aggressive on it.” He added, “We make an advisory opinion, and then let the zoning board take the lead.”

Richard Hameroff, owner of Broadway Auto Clinic in Menands, proposes a 7,100-square-foot car wash at 2115/2123 Western Avenue that is 190 feet long and that could, at maximum running capacity, wash up to 180 cars in an hour.

The site that Hameroff has chosen is heavily trafficked. According to the New York State Department of Transportation, 40,786 vehicles a day travel the length of Route 20 between Route 155 and the Stewart’s Shop at Route 146. That’s more than travel on Wolf Road in front of Colonie Center, which the DOT lists as 31,348.

The number of cars passing by makes the site attractive, Hameroff said, as does the “number of rooftops” in the area.

Hameroff, who said his auto-repair business in Menands includes a two-bay car wash, told both boards that, while business is good in Menands, his long-term goal for himself, his wife, and their two sons is to open the proposed car wash in Guilderland.

The car wash would have a seven-foot-high foundation wall, which Hameroff proposes to decorate with faux stone for aesthetic appeal. Architectural details at either end of the car-wash tunnel that make it look like a two-storey building are there only for visual interest, the boards heard. Twenty-one powder-gray vacuum risers would stand in front, closer to the road, in two curved lines.

Earlier, Hameroff had requested and received a zoning-district change from Business Non-Retail Professional to General Business, the town’s most intensive commercial zoning district. In General Business, a car wash would be an allowed use with a special-use permit.


This is Richard Hameroff's proposal for a carwash (the large rectangle) and a credit union (the smaller rectangle at right) to be built by Sunmark.



Hameroff’s plan

The car wash would have three lanes and could have seven or eight cars in each lane, the zoning board heard in April. The car wash would offer a number of extra services, but those wouldn’t take any longer, Hameroff told The Enterprise this week; all cars go through the tunnel at the same speed, regardless of whether services such as “tire shine” or “hot lava wax” are being applied or not.

Under Hameroff’s proposal, he would demolish the white buildings across from SEFCU — a commercial building and a house, as well as several outbuildings — and the peach-colored house next door on a hill. The peach-colored house is directly across from the traffic light.

Together, that would form the site for a car wash that he would own and run, as well as land for a credit union that he plans to sell to Sunmark. The 2,000-square-foot credit union would be on the eastern edge of the site, where the peach-colored house is now.

Hameroff told the boards he plans to grade the hill and take out 15,000 square feet, or 750 truckloads, of fill.

Still, the site is higher than the roadway, at the traffic light.

Feeney said to Hameroff’s engineer, Brett Steenburgh, at the board’s March 27 meeting, “The top of the building, it’s 14 feet higher than the intersection. So I’m trying to get a visual on it.”

Feeney also noted repeatedly at that meeting that the curved line of 21 vacuums that would be visible along Western Avenue at the front of the site would be 175 feet long, describing it as  “more than half-a-football-field” long. A football field is 300 feet long.

Hameroff told The Enterprise this week that the greater length allows more cars to go through more efficiently. As many as six or seven cars can be washed at the same time, he said, and the size is appropriate to the number of cars passing by the site every day.

Hameroff says the location in central Guilderland would bring in traffic from around the area, including from State Farm Road.

The closest existing competitor is Colonial Car Wash, located just under two miles east on Route 20. Asked if this was too close, Hameroff told The Enterprise that the location he is proposing would bring a completely different market from Colonial’s.

Stewart’s Shops recently unveiled a proposal for a convenience store with gas pumps and a one-bay automated car wash at Route 155 and Corporate Circle Drive; this site is seven-tenths of a mile from Hameroff’s proposed site. Hameroff called the Stewart’s plan “irrelevant,” saying, “What they’re proposing there is very small; it’s a completely different market.”


But Hameroff’s proposed site also presents a number of difficulties for development, including limitations posed by wetlands at some of the edges, steep hills in the back and at the western edge, and a ravine on the east side that leads down to a creek, the Kaikout Kill.

At both the March planning board meeting and the April zoning board meeting, board members noted that the plan does not now include an “escape lane,” a lane for those who go around to the back and see that the car wash is crowded and wish to change their minds.

Planning board member Thomas Robert said that, if he drove in somewhere and wanted to leave without waiting and was unable to, he would only do that once, implying that he would not use the car wash again.

Zoning board member Jacob Crawford suggested that an escape lane could be built that involves turning into the credit union. The town-designated engineer, Jesse Fraine of Delaware Engineering, said that should be looked into, and Steenburgh said it was a great idea.  

Hameroff said this week that the car wash would be staffed and that, if someone did not want a wash, the employees would let that car go through, although it’s possible that there could be a wait. But, he said, “Even on the busiest days, you could still let people through.”

Hameroff also said that the entrance is wide enough to allow a driver to turn around, if the car wash were too busy.

And, he said, “When all is said and done, I think we are going to have enough room to put an additional lane in.”

A concern raised by some residents was the possible effect on the creek at the bottom of the ravine.

The zoning board asked Steenburgh about how discharge would be treated. He said the water and chemicals, and the water and oil, are separated. Some of the water is then re-used in the wash process, he said, and the rest is discharged to the sanitary sewer system. The project would extend the existing sewer, he said.

Jennifer McClaine, owner of Poiema Salon next door, down and up a steep hill on the other side of the ravine, named a number of concerns. She said she worries about runoff and about increased accidents. “We have accidents right there all the time,” she said.

The snow plows already have a hard time, she said, and she suggested this project would make their work more difficult. She also said that she worried about car waste and oil, and whether it would make its way into the creek. She said that the hill behind her business is eroding and that the soil in the area is Pine Bush sand.

McClaine said she worries about the influx of cars in an already congested area. She said it’s impossible to turn left out of her business from about 2 to 7 p.m. She said she thought the project would be better suited to a less busy part of town.

Hameroff said this week that all the water from the car wash is captured and treated, with about half re-used. He said that using a car wash prevents contaminants from washing off onto the roadways, as happens when people wash cars in their driveways. “Thus, it’s actually beneficial to the environment,” he said.

Hurdles ahead

The planning board recommended the project to the zoning board, but set a list of seven conditions, which zoning-board chairman Thomas Remmert told Hameroff and Steenburgh at a recent meeting is “a lot.”

One requirement set by the planning board is approval by the state’s Department of Transportation for Hameroff’s plan to make the intersection four-way, instead of three-way, and create a new, centralized driveway.

Currently, the various buildings located on the site — which Hameroff will demolish — each have separate driveways. Hameroff’s plan is to remove all of the current curb cuts and have the driveways funnel into one entrance, at the existing light, at his own expense. So the car wash, credit union, and the nearby Foundation for New York State Nurses would all come out at the traffic light.

Hameroff would create a left-turn lane into the site for traffic heading east on Route 20, he told the zoning board in April, partly by redrawing the existing lines and, if necessary, by widening the road. It would also be possible to turn left out of the site at the light.

He would add a pedestrian crosswalk with a push-button signal for anyone who might want, for instance, to cross over to the credit union or to the nurses foundation. He also will pay, he says, for an upgraded traffic signal and any related improvements.

“It’s an allowed use,” Feeney told The Enterprise of constructing a car wash on that site, in a General Business zone. “We’ll see how it all works out, whether they get as big of a car wash as they want.”

Laurel Bohl, a Democratic candidate for town board who was until recently the head of the the grassroots group Guilderland Coalition for Responsible Growth, told the zoning board in April, “At the last planning board meeting, we were all, I think, as residents really stunned that this got passed along to you people with so many things as yet undone.”

Bohl also said, “I would recommend that people try to visualize something more than half-a-football-field long, and picture what this would do.” She told the zoning board that the issue of how much profit the developer makes from the site should not be a consideration. “It really is up to the boards to tell the developer what fits right, in that lot, in this town,” she said.

Bohl lives on Western Avenue less than a mile west of the proposed car wash.

Hameroff is also seeking variances from the zoning board: to allow the rear setback to be reduced from 75 to 50 feet, and to allow a drive aisle to be located within a required buffer to a residential district.

The seven conditions that the planning board attached, when passing it along to the zoning board, were:

— A detailed landscaping and lighting plan, including the amount of grading of the hill behind the car wash;

— A detailed elevation showing materials to be used for the building facade and the foundation wall;

— A detailed drawing of the vacuum risers, showing the color scheme;

— A design of the fourth leg of the intersection and a left-turn lane from Western Avenue, all to be reviewed and approved by the state’s Department of Transportation;

— A stormwater pollution prevention plan to be reviewed and approved by the town-designated engineer;

— A statement in writing from the town’s superintendent of water and wastewater that the proposed car wash would use water recovery and other technologies to satisfactorily reclaim water; and

— A site plan to be reviewed by the Westmere fire district.

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