It’s hurry up and wait at the future site of the 180 Market Street city hall/library/senior center building. 

A July 1 letter from the school district’s attorney to the Development Review Board (DRB) concerning safety at the 180 Market Street site surprised city officials and outlined traffic and student safety concerns. 

The letter was emailed one day before the DRB heard the preliminary and final plat application for the city to subdivide a 4.09-acre lot related to the 180 Market Street project. 

But those safety concerns aside, school board chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald said she thinks the district will still sign a half-dozen documents – including the final stormwater management design – it’s been asked to approve before mid-month.

Traffic, parking and student safety concerns

In May, the school board motioned to agree to a concept plan for stormwater management at 180 Market Street with the caveat that a final design plan be presented for signature and include addendum items that were to be negotiated between the city and school district. The access road near School Street and parking were among concerns noted in the addendum. 

“From the school district’s perspective, ensuring that children have a safe route to school is paramount,” school district attorney, David Rugh wrote in the letter to the DRB. “[The district] seeks to minimize any vehicular conflicts with children walking and biking to school as much as practicable.”

In the letter, the school district asks the DRB to impose two conditions. The first, calls for vehicular access from Lot B (a currently unplanned lot city officials believe will be further subdivided in the future) to Lot B2 (a .27-acre right of way) be secondary to access to Lot B from Garden Street. This would see less traffic using the road closest in vicinity to Rick Marcotte Central School.

In its second condition of approval, the district asks the DRB to have the city eliminate three on-street parking spots planned north of a “bump out” at an access drive to Lot B2 (the right of way) from Lot B (the currently unplanned lot). On-street parking prohibitions there will ensure drivers can see children walking or biking to school along the easterly side of the street to be constructed on Lot B2, the letter says.

Following public testimony during the 180 Market Street plat application hearing, the DRB decided to continue hearing for the subdivision application. The board will have private deliberations and hopes to have a decision ready by July 16. 

“Since the public is fairly emotional about it, they [the DRB] want to make sure the decision is consistent with the rules,” Development Review Planner Marla Keene told The Other Paper. 

It’s the first time the DRB has determined a street type – e.g. commercial, boulevard, alley – since new form-based code was implemented, Keene said. The school would like to see part of the proposed subdivision, Lot B2 (the right of way) be considered a “support street” from Lot B (the currently unplanned lot). Support streets are “side streets parallel or perpendicular from primary thoroughfares with higher levels of activity,” according to the city’s Land Development Regulations. Primary access to Lot B would come from Garden Street.  

“This is the first time they’ve really had a choice [for street type] before them,” Keene said. “They just want to make sure they do it right.”

The board will have 45 days to deliver a decision after the hearing is closed, a 30-day appeal period will follow. The fastest scenario would be for the board to turn a decision around in two weeks, according to Keene. But as the city and school await its deliberation, progress on 180 Market Street will remain at a standstill. 

Waiting game

The city hoped to get the subdivision squared away and start road work near the future municipal building. According to City Manager Kevin Dorn, there are no other parts of the project that can begin at this time. 

“We’re trying to do what the voters asked us to do which is build this facility,” Dorn said. “I don’t know how we can get in the ground and get work done before the school year starts.” 

Dorn said the letter from the school’s attorney to the DRB came as a surprise because school and city attorneys were already negotiating safety concerns presented by the school board in an addendum to its stormwater management concept plan agreement. 

“This came out of nowhere, we were blindsided by this,” Dorn said.

According to school board chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald, the letter was crafted as what school officials believed to be standard procedure for an interested party.

“We’re really operating on counsel’s information that this should go through the DRB,” she said. “It’s nothing we haven’t discussed with the city before through the addendum.”

But Dorn said that the city has a “very different perspective” on the safety of the road. He said that narrow streets and on-street parking on both sides are measures to make the area safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. 

“Anyone who understands traffic and parking knows that [on-street] parking is a traffic slowing measure,” Dorn told The Other Paper. “We’ve agreed to negotiate these [requests], now they’re taking these issues to the DRB in a venue that is not pertinent to subdivision; you can tell I’m frustrated.” 

The city still needs the school district to sign off on a half-dozen documents – including the final stormwater management design – before it can apply for other permits and begin work on the building. The city planned to send those documents to the board by July 10, Dorn said. 

According to Fitzgerald, concerns put forth to the DRB shouldn’t change the school’s ability to sign those documents by mid-month. 

“I think this [letter] is just reinforcing what we thought was fixed at the May 29 meeting,” she said. “There should be no surprise to the city.”

Background

The 180 Market Street city hall/library/senior center got the greenlight from most voters during the Nov. 6, 2018, election.  Some of the four articles related to the project passed by a nearly 3:1 margin. 

As part of the deal, the school district conveyed three easements at the Rick Marcotte Central School property. The easements were to be used for parking, utilities and present/future access to the City Center municipal building. 

In exchange, the city was to give the district use of its current city hall building – once vacated – for its administrative offices. The district can lease the space for $10/year for three years with two, 3-year renewals. Should the district wish to purchase the property, the city would sell it for $10. 

The project hasn’t been without strife between city and school parties. Controversy over stormwater management on the site began in March. After much back and forth, the district and city reached a conceptual plan for stormwater management – with the addendum – that would see stormwater management wholly within impervious areas of the Rick Marcotte Central School property without the use of additional school property outside the impact area of city hall construction and school parking lot reconfiguration.

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