BY Molly Congdon
CLIFTON PARK — Currently the entrance of Woodland Hills, directly off Route 146, is a heavily wooded lot, shading residents as they turn into the neighborhood, like a cooling canopy.
It’s the type of picturesque suburbia that many have come to love and cherish in Clifton Park.
However, at the corner of 146 and Arnold Drive, change is in the air for residents; that is, if it gets approved by the town Planning Board.
The applicant — The Great Discovery Childcare, owned by Jennifer Zaccaria — has proposed this as a new location to set up a 4,800-square-foot day-care center for approximately 60 children, with 11 employees. Despite the fact that a day-care center is a permitted land use at that location, residents oppose it due to the potential ramifications of its being built.
“It’s going to be a traffic nightmare,” said Woodland Hills resident Vincent Aceto, 83. “We are a neighborhood that is quiet and safe and you’re going to have this kind of traffic every day during the week?”
He continued: “The overriding question is: What is the public good that will come of this that takes precedence over the 154 people that currently live here?”
There was a previous proposal to put a funeral home there; the applicant dropped the proposal because he didn’t want to fight the residents, according to Aceto.
Another sore point for the nearby residents is that the vice chairman of the Planning Board, Joel Koval, is a real estate agent trying to arrange the sale of the site.
Traffic is always a consideration for every project, and the applicant is set to provide traffic data for review at the meeting coming later this month.
“Traffic is the outstanding issue; there is going to be activity generated at the daycare facility,” Planning Board Chairman Rocco Ferraro said. “What would be the most appropriate measure to address those concerns associated with accessing the building.”
Safety concerns are even more important than traffic, according to residents. “People are going to be late, they are going to rush, they’re going to do something they wouldn’t normally be doing — something stupid,” Aceto said. “And that’s why you have accidents.”
The stormwater runoff placement could be problematic. “They show a kidney-shaped pool of water, which is going to be the space for runoff water,” Aceto said. “This is not safe for kids; it’s not meant to be in a neighborhood.”
“If you go off the road, you’re going to be in a ditch,” resident Rita Gava said.
“That’s a new issue,” Ferraro said. “That was not brought up at the meeting by the residents, but — that being said — that requires all stormwater to be handled on site; there’s not going to be a runoff issue.”
Woodland Hills residents firmly believe that this project is simply too massive for this parcel of property.
“The property is just not big enough for all of the things they are trying to do,” Gava said. “Off of that map, I took the numbers that they are supposed to have and I just did the percentages. They don’t have near enough road footage; those are the facts.”
“It’s like forcing a round peg into a square hole,” resident Judy Morley said. “It’s not only the number, it’s the amount of variances; it’s too big a thing for that piece of land.”
Aesthetics and maintaining green space are also part of the discussion. “There is no way they are going to be able to build this without knocking down all of the trees,” Gava said. “When I turn off of 146 into Wheeler Drive the temperature on my thermometer drops two degrees because of the trees.”
“The site plan design has a lot of flaws in it,” Aceto said. “Not the least of which is that 50 percent of that area is supposed to be green space; they are lucky if they have 30 percent.”
Another significant factor that has residents worried is the increase in noise. “The sound is going to come right into the neighborhood,” Gava said. “The buffer of trees will be gone; they act as cleaners and the sound barrier is amazing. I find it hard to believe if any of the members of the Planning Board were members of our neighborhood, this wouldn’t even be happening; if they put the shoe on the other foot, they wouldn’t make the decision to try to jam something in there that requires so many differences.”
Another issue is the Planning Board itself. Residents say they were appalled by what took place during its meeting July 14. “The fact that the vice chair of the Planning Board is the real estate agent who is selling the property makes you wonder; he did recuse himself, I’ll say that, but he didn’t recuse his appearance — he stayed in the room,” Aceto said. “Non-verbal messages can be very strong.”
Aceto wasn’t the only one to take notice. “He sat there, behind the table, the whole time and whispered things to the person next to him; I’m sorry, that doesn’t look like you’re recusing yourself and we don’t know what you’re saying to the person next to you,” Gava said. “It was not pleasant; I said to one of my neighbors I felt like I should have been there in a black and white uniform with a whistle.”
“I did not see that,” Ferraro said. “Between myself and Joel is the town attorney; he may have been talking to attorney for clarification on something. Joel is very professional, he recused himself from any discussion and he certainly was not disruptive.”
Koval could not be reached for comment for this story. Nor could Zaccaria.
This issue will be back on the Planning Board agenda for dissection at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 11.
For the residents of Woodland Hills this venture isn’t just business, it’s personal.
“You just wonder what is going on?” Aceto said. “Why don’t they really protect the people in Clifton Park. What they seem to be doing is protecting the business interest in Clifton Park; business trumps everything in this town and to hell with the people.”