The Rome Planning Board approved the state environmental quality review and site plan review for Hoffman Development Corp. of Albany to build a 6,400 square foot car wash at 1315 Erie Blvd. W., the site of the former West Rome School, at its monthly meeting on Tuesday.
Despite opposition from community members and representatives of the Historical Society of Rome and Oneida County Historian Joseph Bottini stating that it is a historic site that must be preserved, the City officials and council said legally there was no reason the project couldn’t go ahead.
Deputy Director of Community and Economic Development Matthew J. Andrews answered questions throughout the meeting, adding that the project meets all city codes, as well as building and safety guidelines.
Before comments from city officials and board members, however, Andrews read comments submitted by the public, all of which opposed the construction of a car wash on the site.
“Please don’t let another historic building in Rome be destroyed,” commented Kathleen Haley, of Phoenix, Arizona and formerly of Lee, suggesting there are more suitable places in the city to build the lava. -auto. She wondered if the city had learned anything from the downtown construction and revitalization projects.
Michael Rescigno said it didn’t come down to whether Rome needed another car wash, but questioned why it had to be done at the expense of a historic building, asking Hoffman to change his plans .
A resident said just because the ancient school of western Rome isn’t on historical roles doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be. He mentioned the extensive renovations going on at the Capitol Theater right now, and how this building is only eight years older than the old school in Rome West.
“It still has all the original architecture and it can be proud of for the next 100 plus years if you allow it,” the local resident said. Former students “think that this proposal is a travesty towards the community”.
Those who oppose the project, as a group, “got a lawyer and through that lawyer they offered to buy out the property,” he said. “Just because this building can be destroyed doesn’t mean it should be. Listen to your community — those who live here and pay taxes here. Too much has already been destroyed.
William Rapke, who has previously spoken out against the demolition of the old school in West Rome, said Hoffman’s plans were “flawed in several respects” and that their “supporting documents are not complete”.
“They said they consulted with local authorities about the historical significance of the building, but that was never done,” Rapke said. He went on to say that there were also traffic problems in the area with the potential for more accidents at the intersection, as well as questions about sewage and its impact on the wetlands of the property.
It was also mentioned that through Change.org, Rapke collected over 1,300 signatures from people in favor of saving the old school.
“Please don’t continue the mistakes of the past,” he said, adding that county historian Joseph Bottini also wrote a column published in the local newspaper speaking on behalf of saving the old school demolition and preservation of local historic sites.
After reading the comments, Gavin Vuillaume, Landscape Architect at Environmental Design Partnership, Civil Engineer at 1315 Erie Blvd. W. Car Wash, and the proposed car wash at 1727 Black River Blvd., destroyed elements of the site plan that were questioned at the February planning committee meeting.
Vuillaume said they had a letter of signature responding to council’s concerns about an archaeological survey being carried out at the site, stating there was no impact on archaeological or architectural resources and that Hoffman was clear to develop the site. .
Another question from the last board meeting that Vuillaume responded to was the use of existing limestone from the West Rome School and its incorporation into the project. He said the limestone would be used as part of the commercial sign detailing, as well as as part of the historical marker that Hoffman proposed to place in front of the property, marking the location of the ancient School of Rome West.
“We propose to improve the sidewalk and create a small seating area with a few benches” on either side of the marker, Vuillaume said.
Planning Council Chairman Mark Esposito then asked if the group wanted to respond to some of the public comments made.
“The building had been for sale for several years…the whole place was kind of remodeled on the inside by the vet clinic and with the asbestos pollution it would cost over $100,000 to fix it. remove,” said Tom Hoffman Jr., owner of Hoffman Car Wash. & Jiffy Lube, in reference to what it would take to save the building.
“In addition, we do our due diligence. We have verified the “historical significance of the site” and have invested a great deal of time and energy and look forward to continuing construction to begin in the summer, with opening in the fall.”
As for an offer from opponents of the project to buy the building, “Their lawyer contacted us and I replied that we weren’t interested in selling it,” Hoffman said. “She hasn’t made a monetary offer and I haven’t received a response from her, so I don’t know where that stands.”
Hoffman also offered that if the city had other ideas for the location of the historic marker, green space, and seating area, it was open to suggestions.
“I have empathy for the people who went to school there, but it is a private building and sale, and there is nothing in the city or the federal statutes – nothing to warrant the board not approving this project and issuing a negative SEQR statement that I can see,” Chairman Esposito said.
In his comments to council, Andrews said the SEQR and site plan comply with land use and zoning regulations, that it would not “adversely impact traffic volume, that ‘there is no adverse impact on existing facilities or changes to natural resources’ and ‘it is not expected to create a hazard to environmental resources or human health’.
Andrews said: “The proposed action will result in the removal of a structure that is valuable to some members of the community, but there are no established local laws” to prevent approval of the project. The building sits “outside the local historic district boundary…and has been determined not to be eligible for the Register of Historic Places.”
Andrews also added that because Hoffman Development has not accepted any (federal) funds for the project, they are under no obligation to restore or protect the property.
“They have offered to use existing stone as part of the project and are offering a historic marker that matches the existing cobblestones in the right-of-way,” he said. “And the historical marker was developed in good faith.”
At the end of the meeting, Hoffman also offered that RHS Executive Director Arthur L. Simmons III visit the site before demolition and construction began, with an expected start in the spring.