High Ridge plan reduces curb cuts at intersection of Catoonah Street

Concerns about additional storm water dampened but did not wash away enthusiasm for a reduction in the number of curb cuts at the busy intersection of High Ridge Avenue and Catoonah Street, near St. Mary’s Church.
Both issues — fewer curb cuts, more storm water — were discussed at a late February public hearing on a proposed subdivision creating a new building house lot behind an existing house at 167 High Ridge.
The Planning and Zoning Commission extended the public hearing to an additional session planned for March 26.
The plan would take three existing houses on High Ridge, across form the Catoonah Street intersection, and also the fourth new house lot created by the subdivision, and put them all on one accessway. This would have the benefit of reducing the number of curb cuts onto High Ridge, but requires a waiver of a town subdivision regulation that sets a limit of three houses on an accessway.
“I do think the accessway is potentially safer than the other alternatives,” said Susan Baker, a neighbor and the only member of the general public to speak at the hearing.
“It’s for that very thing, to eliminate curb cuts,” Planning and Zoning Commission Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti said of the accessway plan.
Storm water
Planning and Zoning Director Richard Baldelli raised the issue of storm water, fearing the added runoff from an additional house and driveway pavement would flood St. Mary’s School parking lot, just to the north.
“I still have some concern in major storm events water will go from this project to the property behind it — now a parking lot,” Baldelli said.
“We’re seeing so much more flooding the last couple of years than ever before,” said Mucchetti. “Areas that used to be wet now are flooded.”
Frank Fowler, engineer for the applicant, described a drainage system he’d designed to reduce flooding when compared to current storm0water flows.
“You have pre-development flow, and post-development flow,” Fowler said. “...We’re between 42% and 50%, depending on the storm, below pre-development levels.”
Subdivision plan
Attorney Robert Jewell led the team outlining the application, which seeks a two-lot subdivision of just under a half-acre at 167 High Ridge Avenue. The property currently contains one house, and is owned by St. Mary’s.
The subdivision is being proposed by RJR Builders LLC, which has a contract to purchase the property and owns two of three neighboring houses.
RJR owns and has previously subdivided property at 173 High Ridge — now a front and back house lots that both border the St. Mary’s School parking lot, just to the north of them.
The 167 High Ridge property that RJR has contracted to buy — and wants to subdivide — is two houses to the south, roughly across from the Knights of Columbus Hall on the south corner of Catoonah Street.
Between the two properties that RJR owns at 173 High Ridge, bordering the St. Mary’s parking lot, and the one further south that it wants to buy and subdivide, is a house 171 High Ridge, looking directly down Catoonah Street.
This property at 171 High Ridge is in separate ownership, but the owner has agreed to give up its current driveway and share in use of the accessway in order to reduce curb cuts and increase safety, according to attorney Jewell.
Intersection redesign
He also said the entire three-way intersection of Catoonah Street and High Ridge Avenue is being redesigned and will be rebuilt — a collaborative effort of St. Mary’s and the state Department of Transportation (DOT).
That plan, according to Jewell, is to have three stop signs and also three crosswalks at the intersection.
RJR Builders, planning the two-lot subdivision, and its neighbors on the west side of High Ridge, all expect to accommodate the plan that St. Mary’s and the state eventually put together to improve the intersection.
“Together, and as part of the reconfiguration of the sidewalks and intersection at Catoonah Street and High Ridge Avenue, the parties agreed that the best option for these properties was to reduce the number of curb cuts and have as many of these lot served by a single accessway as possible,” Jewell wrote in the application.
“...St. Mary’s has been working with the DOT for over a year to reconfigure the sidewalks and crosswalks at this busy intersection to improve safety significantly,” he said, “and this is the final piece.”
Jewell told the commission the accessway plan was vastly superior to alternative options that are legal under subdivision regulations.
“We could have done four driveways here,” he said, “and [that] would have been awful.”
Sidewalk extension
The plans will accommodate the northward extension of the sidewalk on the west side of High Ridge Avenue.
“The sidewalk will now connect from St. Mary’s School parking lot, and runs all the way down to Peaceable Street,” Jewell said.
The new west-side sidewalk will be a welcome improvement, Jewell said, given that the sidewalk on the east side of High Ridge, by the church building, is narrow and also has utility pole in its midst, interrupting pedestrian movement.
“Forget anyone in a wheelchair,” he said. “... Just not really a safe situation.”
The new sidewalk on the west side and the three planned crosswalks will all be wheelchair accessible, he said.
Grotto to go
Assistant Planner Daniel Robinson asked about what seemed to be a shrine on the adjacent St. Mary’s property, near the property line at the south edge of the parking lot.
“The grotto,” said Jewell. “The statue of the Virgin Mary that was in there has already been relocated and the grotto’s coming down — there were several parishioners that weren’t happy.”