Although the proposed roundabout on Erie Boulevard has not yet been approved, the Schenectady City Council agreed Monday to negotiate for the purchase of two businesses that must be demolished to make room for that road design.
The decision left the owners of Another World Bookstore and Special Arms & Munitions fuming. Both say the roundabout was designed solely to get rid of the city’s adult bookstore, and both think Monday’s decision proves that the project will move forward despite overwhelming opposition from residents who have commented on the public plans.
“It’s deliberately to put me out of business,” said Another World owner Rocco Palmer. “It’s the only two buildings I have and it’s the only two they’re taking down.”
He leases his second building to Special Arms & Munitions.
Both Palmer and the gun store owners are preparing for relocation, even though the project has not been approved by the Schenectady City Council.
The roundabout is part of a $14 million redesign project set to start in 2009 and finish in 2011.
Palmer said the end is already crystal clear.
“If they haven’t approved anything, why are they worried about buying us?” he said.
He’s developed a building plan for his new store, on a site on Broadway in Bellevue, but he’s hired an engineer and an attorney to fight what he expects will turn into an eminent domain battle.
“We don’t want to move. We don’t want to come to Broadway. They’re forcing us to,” Palmer said. “We’re just a business like everyone else. I’ve been there 38 years, paid all the taxes — you know, a tavern has more problems. They call police five, six, seven times a year. We’ve never called them.”
Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard also questioned the mayor for proposing sale negotiations before a final plan has been approved by the council. But she was reassured, she said, and ultimately voted in favor of the measure.
“We’re only negotiating for the right of way, we’re not buying it,” she said.
However, she added that she’s disturbed by the lack of improvements in the plan, and while she wouldn’t say how she feels about a roundabout, she said she has not heard any resident speak positively about it.
Mayor Brian U. Stratton insisted that the proposal is simply the best plan for the redevelopment of Erie Boulevard.
“It feeds in well to the Stockade and the community college because of the roundabout,” he said. “The ultimate goal is to make a street that is predestrian-friendly and green.”
He also said residents will have “ample opportunities to talk about these things at our steering meetings.”
OUT OF THE LOOP
Blanchard disagreed, saying that she went to the most recent meeting but found the same plan that residents panned last year.
“It does seem they’ve not made any changes,” she said.
Special Arms & Munitions co-owner Mark LaViolette questioned whether the city wants public input. He said he hasn’t been contacted by the city at all — not given the dates of the steering committee meetings nor informed of Monday’s council meeting.
“It would be nice. All I ever know is what I read in the paper,” said LaViolette, who is also a city policeman and active in the police union.
He, like Palmer, says closing the adult business is the city’s main objective.
“They’re targeting next door and we’re collateral damage. That’s basically the only reason this is coming to fruition,” he said. “We’ll be relocated, but we obviously chose this location due to the close proximity of the police academy. I feel [moving] would be a detriment to our business.”
Other business owners on Erie Boulevard have criticized the roundabout proposal because it would require customers to enter the I-890 interchange and turn back onto Erie Boulevard in order to access stores on the other side of the street. They have also said the roundabout isn’t needed at its proposed location — the intersection of Erie and South Ferry Street — because South Ferry does not cross Erie Boulevard.
Palmer’s engineer, Lawrence Levine, said documents from roundabout designers Clough Harbour Associates, indicate the roundabout was originally proposed at the intersection with South Church Street.
“The majority of the traffic going to the Stockade goes in at South Church. There are businesses located on South Church,” Levine said. “I did traffic counts — there’s a lot of cars going in at South Church. The left turns at South Church — if they have a problem on Erie, it’s there.”
Also, World and Special Arms & Munitions would not need to be demolished if the roundabout were placed at South Church Street.
“If you ask me, it kind of screwed up the whole project to put it at South Ferry,” Levine said. “Now you have a U-turn problem. South of there, you have to use 890 — that’s inadvisable. It’s a terrible weaving situation, it’s confusing, you have to cross several lanes of traffic to do anything you want to do there. To put more vehicles in that mess — including trucks who may not be familiar with the area — is not a good idea, to say the least.”
Levine is generally a fan of roundabouts, noting that the sharp right turn forces drivers to slow down and makes it unlikely that they would hit another car head-on.
“It eliminates fatal accidents,” he said. “You make it a sharply angled turn, if you hit someone, it’s a glancing blow.”
But he doesn’t like the design of the Erie Boulevard roundabout at all. It’s too gentle, he said.
“What they’re designing is, I would call it, an Erie Boulevard bypass. Cars and trucks will be able to whip through there. So you tell me. If the speed is the problem...I don’t think everybody’s being completely upfront with the public.”
Clough Harbour officials declined to comment, saying they cannot speak on the issue without permission from the city.
The city will pay negotiators $60,000 to determine precisely where the roundabout will go and then negotiate a purchase price for that land. Most of the money will come from federal and state grants; the city will pay just $5,900.