Traffic figures in dispute for big development at old Tasty Top site in Easthampton

By EMILY THURLOW

Staff Writer

Published: 02-08-2023 8:08 PM

EASTHAMPTON — A traffic expert hired by a developer of a proposed large-scale residential and commercial center at the former Tasty Top site has determined that the project will have “minimal” impacts to the traffic flow on Route 10.

The findings for the project, tentatively named “Sierra Vista Commons,” came under criticism Tuesday during a Planning Board hearing that lasted more than two hours, which ultimately led to a unanimous approval to seek out another expert to review the developer’s traffic study.

“I feel, anecdotally, that there’s a problem on that street,” said James Zarvis, Planning Board member. “I feel like there’s a certain level of optimism in the traffic report. … I would personally feel better if there was a peer review — it would alleviate a lot of concerns to get another professional view.”

Plans for the site include an approximately 9,000-square-foot Roots Learning Center, a 7,000-square-foot Roots Gymnastic Center, 10 three-story apartment buildings with 180 units, two sit-down restaurants, three mixed-use retail/office buildings with apartments above, and two 13,600-square-foot mixed-use warehouse buildings.

Construction for a new 2,217-square-foot Starbucks is also currently underway next door to the 93-97 Northampton St. site. The drive-thru establishment also includes an off-street lot with 33 parking spaces.

Concerns with increased traffic dominated the night’s public comment portion of the meeting, with several residents referencing a traffic study performed for the previous Stop & Shop plaza proposal at the same site, as well as the traffic study for the Starbucks property.

Among those who cited inconsistencies with the study, performed by Keri Pyke of engineering firm Howard Stein Hudson in Boston, was Leslie Cernak, an administrative compliance specialist for Cernak Fuel, a local subsidiary of HOP Energy.

At the meeting, which was attended by more than 100 people online and in-person, she questioned the methodology in the study’s research and noted the absence of traffic counts from the Starbucks, which is currently under construction next to the proposed $26 million to $30 million development.

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In combining Starbucks’ estimated 1,822 trips with the estimated 3,974 trips for Sierra Vista Commons, Cernak said she believed a more realistic figure for the project would be closer to 5,796 daily trips. In comparison, the 2008 traffic study for Stop & Shop estimated that that project would have generated 4,578 total trips — a difference of 1,218, or 26.6%.

“This is really significant,” she said.

Cernak also spoke of concerns raised by fellow Cernak Fuel employees about the location of the entrance of the development, which is currently planned to be offset by Mountainview Street by 100 feet.

“We’re not anti-development. We recognize that this project meets the goals and objectives in the city’s downtown strategic plan, but we know that no matter what is developed at Tasty Top, there will be a significant increase in traffic and so we’re asking that this is reviewed in the safest manner possible,” Cernak told the Gazette. “We do not want to wait for an accident to happen before addressing what could have been done to prevent it.”

In two separate letters to the Planning Board, employees William Hickey and Kim Lyons spoke of the challenges that company drivers face in trying to turn the commercial oil trucks.

“The oil trucks do not handle like cars. Trucks have a wider turning radius, and they take more time to start and stop moving,” wrote Lyons. “I think it’s a recipe for disaster to locate the Sierra Vista Commons driveway 100 feet away from Mountainview Street, especially since the project will be the source of significant increase to traffic on Northampton Street.”

Danielle Martineau, a city resident directly abutting the development, also noted that the traffic study did not reflect an accurate depiction of the amount of pedestrian traffic the area has. With the Starbucks site currently under construction, she said many people aren’t walking as much as they normally would.

“It’s not because people don’t want to,” she said.

As part of the vote to have a peer review performed, members of the Planning Board have granted the authority to the Planning Department to select a peer reviewer prior to the March 21 public hearing, according to City Planner Jeff Bagg.

The project’s applicant, Frank A. DeMarinis, owner of Sage Engineering & Contracting Inc. of Westfield, will be responsible for paying for the peer review. That agreement will be executed upon written consent of the applicant, said Bagg.

Proposals with cost estimates must be received by the Planning Department by noon on Friday, Feb. 17.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.]]>