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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 8, 2011

After getting permits for their inn and store,
the Tobins are facing concerns about traffic safety

By Zach Simeone

WESTERLO — A couple who own a business in South Westerlo are running into obstacles on both local and county levels as they try to develop their Van Winkle Inn.

“It’s a business on a county road,” planning board member Gerard Boone told The Enterprise this week. “We put the brakes on it because we didn’t want to OK it without Albany County’s approval.”

The Van Winkle Inn, at the corner of county routes 401 and 405, is owned by Berte and Holly Tobin.

“They made us get a special-use permit to turn a boarding house into a bed and breakfast,” said Holly Tobin. “Then, they asked us to get a special-use permit for the store, even though it’s been a store since 1830. Then, they said we had an 18-wheeler there unloading wood pellets. They said we didn’t have it in our permit. The pellets are one of many things we sell there.”

But the larger issue, according to both the town and the county’s planning boards, is the parking situation in front of the inn, and the Albany County Planning Board decided last month that it would disapprove the Tobins’ request to use the property for “an office, gift shop, [and] dining area in one building, and storage of wood pellets in another building that will require tractor trailor deliveries.”

Neighbors had expressed concerns at a Nov. 22 planning board meeting, but the Tobins disagree.

“This young girl was telling the planning board that, because I have FedEx trucks and UPS trucks that pull into my parking lot, that this blocks the visual,” Berte Tobin said this week. “What’s unique about my place is, I have a parking lot, so they pull all the way in,” he said, alluding to the fact that such delivery trucks often stop in the street in front of other businesses while they make deliveries.

In a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, Susan Helmer wrote that the Tobins were “argumentative” at the November meeting, and “interrupted neighboring residents throughout the meeting and public hearing.”

To this, Berte Tobin replied, “We’re standing up for our rights; if that’s being argumentative, then I guess we’re being argumentative…And, to say we don’t care about safety — I invited the State Troopers and county police both to sit here in our parking lot, and they have, at our invitation.”

There will be another hearing on the issue at this month’s planning board meeting, on Tuesday, Dec. 27, at 7:30 p.m.

Boone added, “People were concerned that it would hinder the line of sight for oncoming traffic. They have parallel parking; it’s not really a lot.”

A short strip of pavement, about as wide as the inn itself, lies just to the side of Route 405. Drivers can pull off the road and park their cars here, but with enough cars or a tractor-trailer parked out front, the concern is that visibility would be limited for cars turning right off of 401 and onto 405.

Leslie Lombardo, a senior planner for Albany County, said Wednesday that the county’s planning board voted last month to disapprove the Tobins’ project for the time being.

“He has several different uses for the same property,” Lombardo said of Berte Tobin, “and yet, he doesn’t have a site plan to show how he’s going to accommodate parking for all of those different uses. The paperwork process requires you to have a site plan for the different agencies involved in the review, in order to correctly assess the impact of what the property owner’s proposing to do.”

James Mearkle, an engineer for the Albany County Department of Public Works, is currently working on a report that will assess the parking area and its effects on safety and visibility, though he declined to comment on the situation this week.

“I haven’t finished my study yet,” Mearkle said. “I’m going to wait until I finish my review.”

“The reason you have a site plan,” Lombardo concluded, “is to show where you’ll have parking on your site, and how many spaces. According to the town regulations, each use has to have a certain number of spaces, so your site plan shows where you will provide those spaces, and it’s a difficult property because the parking is right along the road; it’s not off the road like you’d see in most commercial uses, so it can impact the road directly.”

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