COOPERSTOWN — Village and other local residents got their first chance to speak about the proposed Dunkin'/Baskin-Robbins store at 53 Walnut St. in Cooperstown at a public hearing held during the monthly Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board meeting, Tuesday, Oct. 8, in the village ballroom at 22 Main St.
Their opinions were clear: they don't want the store.
The meeting lasted about two hours, with more than half the time taken up by residents making comments against the store. The crowd was polite, but firm and sometimes vehement. Every person who spoke against the project got a round of applause from the crowd, which filled the ballroom with about 100 people.
One speaker teared up talking about her love of the village, and when she did, several more looked like they might do the same.
More than 20 people spoke, none of them in favor of the project. And although HPARB has a narrowly defined mandate — to maintain the architectural integrity of the village, which is a historic district — the comments were largely not about the architecture of the proposed store.
Instead, the meeting served as a sounding board for people opposed to the project. They spoke about traffic patterns around the Walnut Avenue location, which is about five lots away from Cooperstown Elementary School and less than a half-mile from Cooperstown Middle/High School. They spoke about the need to protect local businesses, such as Stagecoach Coffee and Schneider's Bakery. They spoke about the harmful health effects of sugary products. They spoke about pedestrian crossings. And they asked questions about the process, including if the store was a fait accompli — it isn't — and if HPARB wasn't the committee to look at those issues, who was.
"We kind of strayed," HPARB Chair Liz Callahan said.
A few people did speak about the matter at hand: the look of the proposed store.
Deputy Mayor Cindy Falk, whose background is in architecture, said the proposed design of the store looks like a mishmash of styles, and does not blend into the neighborhood. Hartwick resident Sam Ross, who went to school in Savannah, Georgia, told the board he has witnessed what happens when the integrity of a historic district is violated.
Cooperstown resident Jim Gates recommended the book, "The Geography of Nowhere, The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape," which is about the issues caused by poor civic planning. Several speakers brought up their own travails in trying to get housing or church building changes approved by HPARB, and said they hoped the process would be as stringent for a new-construction business.
Late in the public hearing, Callahan asked Planning Board member David Pearlman to speak about the two-track process the store has to go through to get village approval.
The Planning Board, which looks at traffic, signage and other community impact issues, has requested a traffic study from Dunkin' and its partner in the project, Bohler Engineering of Albany. Pearlman said until Bohler produces the study, everything is on hold in the Planning Board.
"We want to do this very carefully," Pearlman said. "I think this is going to take a long time."
When the public hearing closed, about 90 percent of the audience left, missing the committee's questioning of Steve Wilson, a project manager at Bohler. Wilson brought new sketches for the store, based on feedback the committee gave him at last month's HPARB meeting, Tuesday, Sept. 10. He also brought a new rendering of the store.
However, the committee found fault with much of his work, asking for a rendering from a different view to include a house next door.
Callahan also chided Wilson for not taking out a chimney-like "branding tower," which the board asked him to remove last month.
Several speakers, both on the board and at the public hearing, told Wilson he should look at the new CVS Pharmacy building a block away on the corner of Beaver and Main streets, as an example of a company following HPARB guidelines for blending its architecture into the look of the historic district.
After the public hearing, Wilson thanked the crowd for its comments.
"There is obviously passion about this. This is a great community. But it was also civil," he said.
Previous sketches of the project had the property listed at 54 Walnut St., but that address is actually across the street from the proposed location, which is zoned for commercial use.
Ultimately, HPARB and Planning Board would both have to mark the applications for the store as complete, and the Planning Board has voted to make itself the lead agency, giving them the likely final vote on the project.*
However, the HPARB members echoed Pearlman, saying it was going to be a long process before they could certify or reject anything.
The next HPARB meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, in the village meeting room at 22 Main St.
Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7218.
* An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the Cooperstown Board of Trustees would have the final vote on the issue. However, because the proposed store is in an area zoned for commercial use, and requires no special use permits, the Board of Trustees have no vote on the matter. This story was changed at 12 p.m., Oct. 9, 2019, to correct that fact.