By Holly Crocco
Neighbors who live on or near Guinea Road in Southeast love being able to frequent Salinger’s Orchard to pick up locally-grown produce, fresh-baked pies and other seasonal goods.
But they don’t love the traffic the historic family-owned-and-operated business brings to the narrow, winding road.
And, with fourth-generation owner Tim Salinger seeking approvals from the town to expand the business on his 63-acre property over multiple phases to include an addition to the farm store building, a cidery and, eventually, an event building, nearby residents are asking for stakeholders to consider how this will increase traffic along the residential road.
According to the site plan application, Salinger’s plans include a 2,884-square-foot addition to farm store building, to expand the kitchen and seating area, and increase storage space. This would require demolishing the existing deck. In addition, a current storage area would be turned into a 1,225-square-foot cidery.
This would be part of the first phase of construction, which was originally hoped would get underway by late this year or early 2024. This would also include improvements to parking, as well as ingress and egress.
In a later phase – originally set for winter 2024-25 – plans call for the construction of a new 6,530-square-foot event building to host weddings and other seasonal events that could hold up to about 180 people.
A new sewage disposal area for the event building and addition would be designated, and Salinger is working with the county on a septic design. He is also working with the Putnam County Watershed Council to create a 1,200-square-foot agricultural use building.
The project requires site plan, subdivision and conditional use approval from the planning board, and several area variances from the zoning board.
Salinger has expressed during planning board meetings that he plans to maintain “that neighborhood farm stand feel” of the business. He said the addition to the farm stand building will not add space for shoppers, but rather expand the kitchen and baking area for staff, as well as storage.
“The layout of the store is not changing with this addition,” he said during a Nov. 13 public hearing on the project.
During that public hearing, several neighboring residents voiced concerns over traffic volume, speed and overall safety along the road. It was explained that the plans call for widening of the road to 20 feet in some areas. However, speed bumps are not allowed per town code, and stop signs cannot be installed based on Department of Transportation requirements. In addition, fog lines cannot be painted on the roadway, also due to DOT guidelines.
Planning Board Chaiman Tom LaPerch said the town has plans to improve Guinea Road regardless of whether the expansion plans for the orchard are approved. “The reality is the road stinks now, so regardless of whether this goes through or not… this road is going to be improved by the town,” he said. “It’s on the radar as being a road of high priority.”
“I drive that road twice a day, every day – I am the local resident that lives next to Salinger’s down the road,” said Laura Borneman of Pine View Drive. “We’re neighbors. We love you… but we can’t support this project.”
She said she would prefer it if the road isn’t widened, as doing so will only cause drivers – many of whom are trying to divert from backups on Interstate 84 – to speed up.
Salinger, who also lives on Guinea Road, agreed that traffic being rerouted from I-84 is congesting the neighborhood, and noted that he isn’t looking to “send more cars north.”
“There’s a lot of traffic that goes there on the weekend because of the ways of Google Maps,” he said. “That is the biggest increase of traffic on Guinea Road. It’s not because of Salinger’s. It’s not because of the bus (food truck). It’s not because of my growth in five years. It’s because of the highway pushing traffic this way.”
Gregory Tembeck, also of Pine View Drive, said it doesn’t matter why traffic has increased on the road, only that neighbors don’t want to see it get worse.
“If you’re a farm, you’re not a venue,” he said. “Now you’re changing the look of the entire neighborhood and we don’t like it… Nobody said you are the cause of this. The road is the way it is… What you intend to do is make more money… Then we have to sit there like we do every Saturday and Sunday and say, ‘Well, this is only on the weekends.’”
Planning board members asked how the event venue will affect traffic, especially if there is a weekend wedding happening during peak season when the farm store is open.
Salinger explained that, ideally, an event wouldn’t be happening during peak store hours, which are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. He also said that since the farm does not offer pick-your-own capabilities, the turnaround of each visitor is about 30 to 45 minutes, or quicker, and estimates there to be about 50 to 60 customers per hour at the store.
According to the plans, the improved front paved parking area would be able to accommodate up to 30 spaces, and a combined 109 overflow spaces would be located on the grass in the front of the property, as well as on gravel in the rear.
“With the grass and the pavement and the gravel parking, we’re looking to expand by almost 300 percent in phase one, and that would not include anything for the event space,” he said.
John Waszak of Pine View Drive questioned whether completing a traffic study at this time of year will provide accurate data, since this isn’t the busy season for the farm.
“I think any traffic study that we do now is going to be compromised by the season,” he said. “I think they’re really busy in the summer and they’re really busy this time of year (fall), and it’s ending. So if we haven’t done a traffic study yet, we really should do it at optimal times for the business… I can’t figure in my head what traffic improvements on that road could be made to make this a good idea to have 100-and-some-odd-plus cars and 185 people in that small location.”
Another Guinea Road resident said it’s not just the weekends that see increased vehicles in the neighborhood. “Without this project the traffic is incredible between 4 and 6 p.m.,” she said.
Town Planning Consultant Ashely Ley said a traffic impact study can be completed during off-peak hours and data can be estimated based on levels from studies done nationally, with a growth factor added, if needed.
However, she suggests more information is needed regarding engineering details for the roadway improvements, better delineation of who will make those improvements (the town or business owner), and a trip generation analysis based on hours of operation so there is a better idea of the comings and goings at the site and how it will fit with the parking strategy.
Salinger said it’s not fair for neighbors to say they want the road improved, but then seek to put restrictions on those improvements.
“I’m looking to work with my neighbors, but there has to be a friendly and open exchange,” he said. “I feel there’s a lot of hostility, unwarranted, and it’s getting pushed in the wrong direction.”
Further, Salinger said he has no intention of enhancing the property just to turn around and put it up for sale. “I’m not selling this property,” he said. “It’s been in my family for 100 years.”
The public hearing was left open at the close of the November meeting, with it to continue at the Jan. 8 planning board meeting. In the meantime, a traffic study was formally requested by the board.