A riled-up crowd expressed their ire about a proposed truck stop last Thursday at a Town of Kent Planning Board meeting.
The controversial truck stop is part of the proposed new development project, Kent Country Square, to be located on a hill on Route 52, just 1,500 feet away from Kent Elementary School and Kent Primary School. The project includes a truck stop, truck wash and truck repair along with two hotels, an indoor waterpark, a restaurant and a convention center. If the plan is approved, it would mean blasting 54 acres of rock to mine down 180 feet. The planning board is the lead agency for the project and would need to approve a final site plan.
More than 85 people filled the Kent town courtroom – placed at the front was a sign saying, “Stop the Kent Truck Stop.” People scurried to find seats when the building inspector announced that the room was filled to capacity and if people didn’t have seats they would have to leave. The controversial truck stop issue was ninth on the agenda as part of the project’s SEQRA review (State Environmental Quality Review Act ), but after hearing three other proposals as a restless crowd waited, Planning board Chairman Phil Tolmach skipped ahead to the Route 52 Development project. Residents quickly formed a line on the side of the room for their turn to speak.
“Nobody in their right mind would put a truck stop on top of a mountain,” said Kent resident and Carmel-Kent Chamber of Commerce president Henry Boyd.
Boyd explained that he was a licensed truck driver. “The last thing I want to do is to drive a truck up a hill to get a tank of gas. We don’t need 200 to 300 trucks a day going up and down Route 311 and we don’t want the trucks passing the kids’ schools.”
Tolmach explained that there is a traffic study and once the results were in, the study would be discussed. When asked how trucks would be stopped coming onto 311, Tolmach said signs would be put up causing audience laughter and jeers. “I don’t believe that the developer wants to put a truck stop in. I believe they are after the rock,” said Boyd, eliciting an exuberant round of applause.
“Do you have any proof of that?” asked Tolmach. “Why are you repeating all of this for the 10th time?”
Someone shouted back, “Because we care!” Planning board member Stephen Wilhelm said, “This is not a public hearing!” A resident stood up and yelled, “This is town hall and the town is right here!”
Residents voiced their annoyance with the town for not being informed of the project until it was well underway. An apparent deep-seeded distrust stems from a 2018 town approved commercial development project to build a school bus garage on route 52. Then developer, Kent Materials, obtained a mining permit to clear cut and level the site before building the garage. Forty feet of rock was mined, the company took the rock and bailed out of the project, leaving a barren hilltop. Ultimately the bus garage was built at taxpayer expense.
“People here are desperately afraid of this project,” said Eileen Civitello, who has organized residents to sign a petition opposing zoning variances for the project. “We are all terrified that this [project] will happen in the dead of night. This project got so far along, and we didn’t know about it.”
Tolmach told Civitello, “I’m glad we woke them [the town] up. Maybe they’ll pay more attention in the future.”
Kent resident Patrick Murphy was particularly concerned with the proposed project. “This plan is ridiculous. What are you planning?” Planning board member Stephen Wilhelm told Murphy, “We’re not planning it. They [the developers] are proposing it. We don’t go out there and solicit projects. This was presented to the town board first and they [the developer] have to go through a review process like any other proposal. They pay the fees, they pay for engineering studies. The town isn’t paying anything for this.”
Because the proposed truck stop would be within close proximity of the two schools, Murphy culled a list of childhood health risks from trucks releasing airborne particulate matter. “The small, particulate matter can penetrate into small lungs and is a significant health risk to children,” he said, holding up charts reflecting data to the board.
“Trucks travel past our houses every single day,” explained Wilhelm. “And you’re not allowed to idle at a truck stop in New York State.” Murphy shot back, “That means our police have to make sure the trucks aren’t idling, which also means more of our resources we have to spend our money on.”
Throughout the meeting, clear and precise explanations came from Liz Axelson, planning consultant for the town. Axelson offered a brief project history starting with the first review, studies needed for scoping and what steps had to be taken before a public hearing was scheduled. Tolmach added that certain items had been considered by the planning board for the scoping outline.
“All of us thought about what would concern the town, like pollution, noise,” and then Tolmach sarcastically added, “or killing children in the streets.” The clamorous response had people yelling, “How can you say that?” Tolmach immediately apologized and someone yelled, “You need to go!”
Holding up the 2008 Kent Master Plan, former town board member Penny Ann Osborn Tarbox asked the planning board if they ever read it. “I’m not happy with this plan. It’s way too big, it doesn’t fit our town, or our infrastructure. We don’t need two hotels,” she said. “We’ve had blasting year after year on Route 52. You’re going to start it all over again.”
The board often seemed defensive, reminding the audience that they were volunteers and the work they were doing was in the town’s best interest. Wilhelm referred to the scoping report and how it reflects the planning board’s concerns. “Those are our concerns, we put them in there. We are residents and we’re the ones fighting for you. You’re not listening to what we have done.”
Local real estate agent Brittany Alvarez, who grew up in Carmel, said she currently wasn’t representing buyers in the area. “People are saying they don’t want to live here because of this project and the truck stop issue.”