Parking and traffic concerns dominate generally positive Business for Good public hearing

The Enterprise — Sean Mulkerrin

Around 70 to 80 people showed up fo r a public hearing on Voorheesville native Ed Mitzen’s proposal to alter the village’s Main Street area.

VOORHEESVILLE — Attendance was high for the recent public hearing on Business for Good’s proposal to overhaul large parts of the village’s downtown.

The turnout of 70 to 80 people on June 7 forced the hearing to be moved from a Voorheesville Fire Department meeting room to the firehouse’s expansive apparatus floor. 

The public hearing was kept open for written comments only until the commission’s next meeting, currently set for July 5.

About 30 people spoke on the restaurant and café proposal from successful Voorheesville native Ed Mitzen, with over 80 percent of commenters making generally favorable remarks about the project.

But it was also noted that Mitzen’s not-for-profit in charge of the downtown revitalization, Business for Good, hasn’t been all that neighborly to Main Street’s local businesses. 

Mitzen told attendees the profits from the projects would be donated to youth sports in Voorheesville, Albany, Troy, and Schenectady, “or wherever.”

As has been the theme of a number of planning commission meetings on the project, parking and traffic were the dominant issues touched upon by speakers with concerns about three properties near Village Hall — 40, 42, and 43 South Main St. — slated to become a new restaurant, café, and parking lot. A limited-liability company associated with Mitzen paid a cumulative $810,000 for the three parcels: 

— $350,000 for 42 South Main St., a now-demolished Stewart’s shop, proposed to be a 5,000-square-foot restaurant.

The restaurant had 500 square feet shaved off since it was last before the commission, while proposing 150 seats;

— $150,000 for 43 South Main St., a dentist’s office in a Victorian building slated for demolition to be replaced with another two-story building with two apartments on the second floor and a café occupying the first; and

— $309,900 for 40 South Main St., a four-unit apartment Victorian building with a tower, which is due to be razed to make way for a parking lot for the new restaurant next door at the old Stewart’s site. 


Car concerns

Business for Good’s traffic engineer Alanna Moran noted the two concerns brought up in previous meetings: parking and safety at the intersection of Center Street, Main Street, and Voorheesville Avenue, the nexus of the project. 

“What can we do there to make it a little bit easier for people to navigate the intersection itself?” she asked. 

There is currently two-way stopping at the intersection of Center Street, Main Street, and Voorheesville Avenue, Moran said, with stop signs at Center Street and at the western approach (heading toward village hall) of Voorheesville Avenue.

Working in conjunction with Albany County, which owns Main Street and Voorheesville Avenue, Moran said, the plan is to make the intersection a four-way stop. “Let’s install a couple more stop signs at this intersection,” Moran said. “So everybody approaching — it’s an all-way stop — you come to the intersection, you stop, you take your turn, and then you continue through.”

Resident Krystina Smith, who was named to the village zoning board in July 2021, asked that any approval by the planning commission be made contingent upon the installation of the four-way stop.

Moran said the other recommendation being made is the installation of a crosswalk on Voorheesville Avenue (the Maple Avenue approach currently without a stop sign). “That way, pedestrians can continue to navigate around the intersection,” Moran said. “We call completing the box.”

Moran said the village code notes the parking doesn’t have to be all on-site, and that Business For Good can count shared public parking spaces to make its quota. The code calls for 83 parking spaces between the two projects, and Business for Good is providing 11 spaces at the café and 26 at the tavern. The project is requesting a waiver for the 46 remaining spaces. 

Chairman Steve Reilly stepped in early in the hearing to state there’s ongoing investigation to add parking, “either by communications between the applicant and existing merchants [or] between the applicant and the village to come up with a combination of parking spots; that’s happening now.” 

The village itself is currently working on a plan to increase parking capacity at two Village Hall lots from 27 to approximately 51 spaces, according to an estimate prepared by Frank Fazio, Voorheesville’s consulting engineer on parking.

The village also received a signed letter of intent from Jonathan Phillips, allowing it to use the former Phillips Hardware site for parking, yielding an additional 43 spots, according to an estimate from Fazio. Phillips is leasing the village the site for $1 until he decides what to do next with the land. 

 Ami Lahoff, the owner of Star + Splendor on South Main Street, who made it clear she “really support[s] this project,” noted, “Parking is a really big issue. I’m not going to lie. I mean, this was my main concern.”

Lahoff said Business for Good had done little to alleviate that concern.

“And I’ve never met you or any of your folks; nobody has ever come. I’ve been here; no one said, ‘Hey, how are you? We’re thinking about putting in a business [and] I want to say hi, I want to connect.’ So I’m worried about goodwill with the other businesses in the neighborhood,” she said. “I’ve talked to them; you haven’t talked to them either, except maybe when you need to talk to them about borrowing parking from them. So I worry about that, because that’s just not how we function now. So I have these concerns.” 

It wasn’t the first time Business for Good’s lack of outreach has been noticed.

At the commission’s May meeting, Reilly asked the Business for Good’s Stephanie Marotta-Johnson if she’d reached out to other businesses along Main Street about shared parking arrangements, something the commission had been recommending for months. Marotta-Johnson said she had reached out to Old Songs, and made it clear with the rest of her answer that it was the only organization she’d contacted. 


Resident concerns

Like a handful who spoke, Susan Sheridan was in favor of the project, but in a letter to the commission expanded on some of the concerns she had. As a resident of South Main Street, she would prefer the restaurant close at 10 or 10:30 instead of 11 p.m.

She also suggested reducing the current 30-mile-per-hour speed limit as some drivers use South Main as a speedway, Sheridan said. Finally, she suggested reducing the size of the tavern by 25 or 30 percent.

Resident Gail Hummel wondered about the function and purpose of the tavern. “This is not a family restaurant, you can’t call it that,” she said, not when “you’ve got 17 TVs showing sports.” Mitzen cut off Hummel as she was speaking to tell her trivia could be displayed on the TVs. 

Voorheesville resident Steve Schreiber expanded on his comments in a follow-up letter to the commission.

He said that Business for Good based its traffic projections on square footage rather than number of seats in the restaurant and café. The restaurant of 150 seats would generate 110 trips per hour during weekday afternoon peak hours, “far more than the 48 trips per hour stated in the BFG consultant traffic report,” Schreiber said.

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