City planning halts Byrne Dairy store proposal discussion

Christian Brunelle, VP of Byrne Dairy (Photo by Kevin L. Smith/Cortland Voice).

The city of Cortland planning commission put a hold on discussions revolving around the proposed Byrne Dairy store and gas station at the corner of Port Watson Street and River Street.

Proposed by Byrne Dairy vice president Christian Brunelle, the potential 4,321-square-foot store will include four pumps and eight fuel stations. In comparison, the Byrne Dairy store that opened last November in Homer has eight pumps and 16 fueling stations.

City planning commissioners at Monday’s meeting were close to stamping their approval for Brunelle’s site plan of the store, but talks were halted until next month’s meeting after a disgruntled resident expressed his displeasure for the project.

Lawrence Knickerbocker, a nearby resident of the site where the new store would potentially be, questioned as to why a formal public hearing wasn’t held on the proposal.

Joe McMahon, city planning commission chairperson, said public hearings are embedded in each site plan review.

“All of our meetings are public hearings,” said planning commission board member Jim Reeners.

Knickerbocker argued that meetings like the one on Monday aren’t “heavily advertised” as public hearings. He followed up by wondering if residents of the site are aware of the project.

Reeners said he believes residents are “well aware” of the proposal, adding the planning commission “can’t do much more” to spread the word about the project.

City mayor Brian Tobin chimed in by saying letters were “sent out to some of the neighbors” in regards to meetings and public hearings that included discussions about the proposal.

“The public needs to be involved in this process, especially the neighbors of this nearby proposal,” Knickerbocker said. “You’d want more public input than less. People should know what is transpiring in these meetings.”

John Sears, owner of Bill Brothers Dairy & Farm Market on Port Watson Street, said a store of this nature would hurt his business.

“The people who live around there do not want that store there,” he said.

Knickerbocker detailed a list of concerns he had for the proposed project, with one being the traffic patterns on Port Watson Street.

“It’s not great,” he said. “You have traffic that backs up down from the railroad and all the way to the bridge sometimes. To say there’s not a problem is fallacious.”

Knickerbocker added there are environmental concerns with the proposed store not only for residents, but for the Tioughnioga River that is 750 feet from the site.

He also noted having a store open around the clock is risky with a high crime rate in the general area.

Knickerbocker also questioned Brunelle’s legitimacy around submitting an email on record from the New York state Department of Transportation. Brunelle submitted his site plan to the DOT in late May. He received an email from the DOT which stated their conceptual approval for the site plan based on the contingent that Brunelle would update curbing and parking, and improve on traffic safety for the project’s sketch plan.

“Once I get conceptual approval, that’s telling me to get into the design phase,” Brunelle said.

At the Common Council meeting last week, Lorraine Fox, a resident of Kellogg Road off of Port Watson Street, spoke on how the proposed store could bring further traffic congestion.

“The Coffee Mania drive-thru (on Port Watson Street) makes traffic very congested,” Fox said. “If Byrne Dairy comes in with their store and gas station, that street is going to be even more congested with Coffee Mania only a block away from the site.”

At Monday’s meeting, Brunelle said an independent contractor from GTS Consulting of Chittenango conducted a traffic study for Port Watson Street. 

Brunelle noted the contractor provided two important facts: the street had a 12.2% drop in traffic volumes between 2007-19, and the proposed Byrne Dairy development “will have no significant impact on traffic on Port Watson Street or River Street.”

“There is excess accommodations to help with development,” Brunelle said. “The development will add only one car every 1-2 minutes during the peak traffic hours.”

Councilperson Troy Beckwith (D-7th Ward) recommended the planning commission conduct its own traffic study of Port Watson Street. A former member of the planning commission, Beckwith remembers approved projects in the past that “ended up causing traffic issues.”

“I’ve lived around there for 22 years and getting out of River Street is impossible,” he said.

McMahon didn’t think another study was necessary, especially since the state’s DOT “thinks it’s OK.”

“We’re not qualified to do traffic studies,” Reeners said. “That’s why there are independent contractors.”

McMahon requested Knickerbocker put together his concerns for the proposal for records, and to encourage other residents “to speak on the matter.”

McMahon was honest with Knickerbocker by saying it’s a “good proposal,” and will eventually vote in favor of the project.

“I think it’s going to clear up the neighborhood,” McMahon said. “It helps the city of Cortland.”

Reeners wondered if neighborhood feedback on the proposal “will be adequate” for next month’s meeting. Knickerbocker ensured there will be more residents to speak against it.

“Everyone that is supposed to be here will be here,” Reeners said.