NISKAYUNA -- People who live on Niskayuna's Via Del Mar and other streets located in the "Old Niskayuna" section of the town believe neighborhood safety may be compromised as part of Schenectady County's pending renovation project for Nott Street.
Residents voiced their concerns Thursday during a joint meeting of the town's Economic Development, Historic Preservation and Environmental Conservation Committee and Public Works Committee.
All five members of the Town Board were at the meeting, which was held via computer and smartphone (with remote meeting software) due to coronavirus precautions.
About 50 people, including town and county officials, attended the 90-minute session.
The county is moving forward with the nearly $1.6 million project -- designed to enhance pedestrian and driver safety and upgrade street lighting -- that has been in discussion and planning stages for the past six years. Construction is expected to start in 2021.
The project, which drew opposition from local residents and merchants in the Nott Street shopping plaza that includes the Niskayuna Co-op food market, has won the support of county and town officials.
PETER R. BARBER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Matt Bramble stands in the middle of Via Del Mar in Niskayuna Friday, May 22, 2020.
Matt Bramble of Via Del Mar, which ends across the street from the market, has organized 30 residents of his street and Almeria Road to voice concerns. A major issue: Project plans will put an entrance and exit in the co-op parking lot on the Via Del Mar side of the lot, replacing the current entrance and exit off Nott Street.
Bramble said the project once contained a barrier that would have blocked the south end of Via Del Mar and would have turned the one-block street that runs between Nott Street and Almeria Road into a dead end.
The designation would have meant most visitors to the co-op -- using new exit and entrances to the lot off the north end of Via Del Mar -- would have been forced to turn out of the lot and drive in only one direction, onto Nott Street.
The barrier is no longer part of the county's plan. County officials have said the barrier was a "note" in the plan, an option for the town to take action regarding traffic on Via Del Mar.
"We are here today because the county of Schenectady released their final plans for the Nott Street Project on April 24 that included a small change on paper, but a very notable change in the effect on the safety and quality of life for residents of our neighborhood," Bramble said during the meeting, reading from a prepared statement.
"We immediately sprung into action and reached out to representatives from our county and town to express our grave concerns about this change, and also frustration over the fact that this happened at the county level without an opportunity for public comment during a time of a national emergency which not only limited our access to our government but also our neighbors," Bramble also said.
"This was not an open and transparent process," he added, "and despite the engagement we have managed to achieve, this has been exceedingly difficult for us."
Bramble also said the loss of a barrier, coupled with the entrances and exits to the co-op lot off Via Del Mar, will create extra traffic for the street.
"Our street is not designed to handle commercial or otherwise excessive through traffic," Bramble said. "Our street is narrow, there are no sidewalks, we have no lights, there are often cars parked on both sides of the road, and most importantly there are 35 school-aged children living on Via Del Mar alone with the majority of them below the age of 10.
The Town Board is expected to vote Tuesday on a quote from MJ Engineering to investigate options that will deter traffic from cutting through the residential neighborhoods on Via Del Mar, Almeria Road, Clifton Park Road and Crescent Road. The engineering analysis would consider some of the following:
- Considerations for traffic deterrence or calming may include, but are not limited to, changing Via Del Mar to a no-outlet roadway, preventing access to and from Nott Street, barriers, conversion to one-way vehicular travel, installation of speed reduction features and signage.
- The town is requesting alternatives to re-organize and consolidate the intersection and provide additional parking in the vicinity of the intersection.
- The town has an 85-foot, right-of-way along Crescent Road. Off-street angled parking and on-street parallel parking may be considered.
The engineering work, if approved, will cost the town $10,900.
Other Via Del Mar residents voiced concerns similar to Brambles' concerns.
Steve Cina of Via Del Mar moved onto the street with his family in 2018, leaving Nassau County, Long Island. In East Meadow, Cina said, he and his family had to deal with heavy traffic through their neighborhood.
Cina was sold on the tranquility and a sense of community he and his family found in Old Niskayuna.
Michelle Mercier, a 20-year resident, also professed great appreciation for her town and neighborhood. But she is worried about extra traffic.
"Please respect us," Mercier asked officials. "We're looking to you to protect and respect this community, because it is a gem."
Ann Thornton, a Via Del Mar resident since 2018, doesn't want to see anything about her street change.
"This neighborhood speaks to our souls," she said. "It's the pre-World War II development pattern that was made for humans over cars, it's the old and beautiful trees, it is the fact that we see everyone biking and walking. It's the affordability ... it's the kindness of the people who live here."
But residents of Clifton Park Road expressed concerns that concessions made to reduce traffic on Via Del Mar could result in increased traffic on their street.
Bill Chapman of Clifton Park Road, a former member of the Town Board, suggested traffic be examined after the county project has been completed to see if Via Del Mar has experienced a bump in traffic.
"With the understanding that, gee, if you close off Via Del Mar, those cars are going other places and many of those cars are going to come over to Clifton Park Road," Chapman said. "We have a lot of cars on Clifton Park Road already."
County Legislator Michelle Ostrelich, D-Niskayuna, who was also at the virtual meeting, said there have been conversations about the Nott Street project with area residents and business owners.
"It's been very helpful to make sure that everyone's concerns are addressed and although safety is always a priority, the first priority, there are many other aspects to this project that we have taken under consideration and worked hard to solve," she said.
"Everyone is very grateful the county is committed to seeing their safety project through to the end," said town Councilwoman Denise Murphy McGraw, also co-chairwoman of the Public Works Committee. "But now it’s time to focus on the traffic concerns on the town roads in the surrounding neighborhoods."
Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed, also co-chairwoman of the Public Works Committee, said she appreciated the feedback from neighborhood residents.
Contact staff writer Jeff Wilkin at 518-641-8400 or at [email protected]