Residents of Via Del Mar — a street located next to the parking lot for the Niskayuna Co-op food market — are upset with Schenectady County’s plan to renovate Nott Street at its intersection with Balltown Road.
Matthew Bramble, a street spokesman, said the latest design for the project has removed 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, Bramble said, 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.
“It would not have impacted our street,” Bramble said. “It would not have created a safety issue for our street if that block that was on their design was there.”
County Legislator Michelle Ostrelich, D-Niskayuna, on Friday said the barrier was a “note” in the plan.
“The note was pretty clear, it was an option for the town to use one of the many options they can use with regard to traffic on Via Del Mar,” Ostrelich said. “At the public meeting, it was presented as an option for the town and it was discussed.
“Residents from Via Del Mar and Clifton Park Road all talked about the potential for ways to divert traffic or consider and control traffic on the side streets,” Ostrelich added. “That was a big concern that they had brought up at that public meeting, but we have always known that is a town concern.”
Ostrelich also said elements of the county’s plan ensures traffic to the side streets is minimized.
“We’ve been concerned about traffic on residential streets from day one and we’ve done everything we could within the scope of the project to reduce traffic from being diverted to side streets,” she said.
Ostrelich also said part of a traffic solution for Via Del Mar could be an exit from the co-op parking lot that is severely angled, pointing motorists toward the intersection of Via Del Mar and Nott Street, “So folks need to take a right only out of that lot.”
“That is absolutely a possibility,” Ostrelich said. “I passed it by our engineer folks and made sure that that is something that is part of the collaboration with the town. Right now, we’re not making any changes to that plan that’s being voted on on Tuesday, it’s something we would address once the town has decided how they wish to treat Via Del Mar.
“For example,” Ostrelich added, “if they want to make it a one-way street, if they want to make it a cul-de-sac, we wait for their input before we make any changes to the final design plan that ultimately gets built.”
County legislators will vote on the nearly $1.6 million project — designed to enhance pedestrian and driver safety and upgrade street lighting — at its Tuesday meeting. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the meeting will be held through video conferencing.
The project, which drew opposition from local residents and merchants in the Nott Street shopping plaza that includes the co-op, has won the support of county and town officials.
Without a barrier in place, Bramble believes Via Del Mar becomes a different street.
“Three weeks before the vote to approve this at the county level and during a pandemic, they removed that barrier,” Bramble said. “Now traffic from that commercial parking lot can turn south without restriction onto our street. People can access it from our street, so our street is becoming an access road for that parking lot, without that barrier. It’s a significant change to us.”
Bramble said there are about 25 houses on Via Del Mar. He estimated that between 20 and 30 children are in the families who live on the street.
“Our street is quite thin, it’s one of these old tree-lined streets that’s quite narrow and about 30 feet wide,” Bramble said. “Cars are often times parked on both sides of the street, so it’s generally only wide enough for one car at a time to drive down.
“Of those 20 to 30 kids who live on our block, they are frequently in the roadway riding bicycles, playing chase, playing sports, running out to grab a ball,” Bramble added. “Many of the people moved to the street because of how quiet it is. When your street is only one block long it tends to be pretty quiet.”
Bramble also believes that residents will not have ample opportunity to voice concerns and complaints about the change, because both the Legislature and Niskayuna Town Board have been conducting online meetings through video social conferencing platforms. At two recent regular sessions of the Town Board, residents wrote letters that were read into the record during a video “privilege of the floor” session.
Bramble believes there is more time for discussion on the project, which is not scheduled to start until the spring of 2021.
“This is not an emergency project,” he said. “But given three weeks with a humongous change that impacts our block, our safety, our livelihoods, the values of our homes, is just absolutely inappropriate.
“They don’t need to do it this way,” Bramble added. “They seem to be, honest to God, they seem to be basically trying to do this in the dead of night on both the town and the county level.
“We don’t believe these votes should be considered binding in the process because were not allowed an appropriate opportunity to speak with them,” Bramble also said, of the upcoming vote.
Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed said the Via Del Mar concerns were discussed with a street resident during a recent meeting of the town’s Highway, Parks and Recreation Committee. She said the town is looking at the entire area, which includes Via Del Mar, Crescent Road and Clifton Park Road.
“We recognize at the town level that we don’t just want the Nott Street project to be static and one project, we want to look at all those other surrounding streets because we recognize they are going to be impacted,” she said. “We want to see what kind of solutions we can come up with to address their concerns, which are very real concerns.”
One solution could be a barrier the town places at the end of Via Del Mar.
“That’s something we’re considering, that’s one of the options,” Syed said. “We’re going to engage the services of a professional engineering company and see if they concur. They might even have a better solution but … we are committed to finding a solution for their concerns.”
Councilwoman Denise Murphy McGraw said residents of the neighborhoods surrounding Nott Street and business owners in the area have spent years communicating their issues with traffic mitigation, parking and safety.
“The town also has issues,” McGraw said. “The water and sewer lines that run under Nott Street are ours and will need to be addressed. That is why I have been working with the town planner and engineer to come up with a plan to augment or complete the county project.”
Councilwoman Rosemarie Perez Jaquith, who also was at the Highway, Parks and Recreation Committee meeting, said she has spoken to concerned Via Del Mar residents.
“We are committed to working with the Via Del Mar residents and all residents to address concerns and find workable solutions,” Jaquith said. “I look forward to continuing the communications with residents and doing the work to get it done.”
If the Legislature approves, the plan will go to the state Department of Transportation for its final approval. Once that occurs, the plans will come back to the county for final engineering design and preparation of bid specifications.
People can still email comments to the county Legislature at https://www.
Contact staff writer Jeff Wilkin at 518-641-8400 or at [email protected]