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Potsdam zoning board moves ahead with proposed hotel

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POTSDAM – Some residents who attended the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals public hearing on a proposed hotel were concerned it may impact traffic on the already-congested Market Street.

The public hearing preceded the board’s vote on whether to grant an area variance for the proposal to construct a three-story, 95-room Hampton Inn at the current site of Ton’s Sports Bar and Scoopuccino’s. The area variance is needed for the approval of the site plan because the proposed hotel would be 44.5 feet tall at its highest point, which exceeds the 40-foot maximum building height for its zoning district.

Though no public comments were made on the record, some residents of neighboring residential streets expressed concerns to Frederick Hanss, director of Planning and Development for Potsdam, that the proposed hotel may increase traffic on Market Street.

“Traffic on Market Street is going to be crazy. It’s already the busiest street in St. Lawrence County,” Mr. Hanss said.

He pointed out Market Street currently handles an average of 17,000 vehicle trips per day. He estimated the hotel would increase vehicle trips on that street an average of 60 to 200 vehicle trips per day.

The hotel plans to be at 60 percent capacity at any given time – excluding the weekends of large events, such as graduation, which may draw more tourists, Mr. Hanss said. If at 60 percent capacity and if there were one vehicle per occupied room, there would be 60 additional vehicles coming and going from the hotel on a daily basis, not including employees.

Mr. Hanss said the planning board considered an additional access road for residents who live off Sisson Street, but he said it was not feasible. “It was deemed not workable. There are too many traffic signals on Market Street to begin with,” he said.

At its next meeting, March 14, the board will vote on whether to grant a site variance to Jim Sheehan, a local businessmen who currently owns the lots on which the hotel would be built. This way when Mr. Sheehan sells his property to the hotel’s developer, Vision Hotels, of Corning, the developer will be permitted to exceeds the zone’s 40-foot height limit, according to Mr. Hanss.

Mr. Hanss said an area variance pertains to a piece of property rather than a specific developer or business.

The hotel exceeds the 40-foot ordinance largely because of a proposed cornice, a decorative crowning on the roof of the building.

Mr. Hanss also noted a recent market study of the village discovered a lack of hotel rooms in Potsdam. The study recommended another 80 to 120 hotel rooms in the village, which would benefit the local economy, Mr. Hanss said.

“(Studies show that) for every dollar spent on a hotel room, $1 is spent on gas, food or local shopping,” Mr. Hanss said.

The village’s Planning Board accepted the proposed hotel’s site plan, which was presented by Amy Franco of Clough Harbor & Associates, last week.

The cost of the hotel is expected to run between $6 and $7 million.

Ms. Franco could not provide a specific timetable for the project, but said she hopes to move ahead as quickly as possible with the plan.

“I think they’re ready to start (construction) pretty much as soon as we can,” Ms. Franco said.

The board also looked at the possibility of expanding a small back road that currently connects the Asian Buffet and Mongolian Grill to the Potsdam Shopping Center. Board members wanted to see that road extended to reach Sisson Street in an effort to relieve traffic on Market Street. However, the parking lot of the McDonald’s next door blocks the path for any back road.

Mr. Hanss asked Ms. Franco to reach out to the owner of that McDonald’s to ask if they would be all right with the construction of a back road through their parking lot.

“Talk to McDonald’s. They might think it’s a great idea. It gives guests direct access to their property,” Mr. Hanss said. “(And) if McDonald’s agrees to that back road then that’s something we’d like to see.”

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