Public Safety Building Update: Driveway change implemented; Addressing requests for sidewalk and noise buffering (Updated)

by beth on November 13, 2019

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Above: Ignore past warnings to enter on the left. All drivers accessing the public safety building and golf course should now enter on the right and exit on the left. (photo by Beth Melo)

The driveway for the Public Safety Building has been converted to meet drivers’ traditional expectations. The new routing uses the divided lanes as one way entrances and exits for all vehicles.

In following up on those changes, I also got an update on two requests from the public the Public Safety Building Committee discussed at their meeting last week – sidewalks and HVAC noise buffering.

Driveway issues and resolution

Before the new safety complex even opened, some commenters were appalled to learn that the driveway that they had assumed was a divided entrance and exit wasn’t intended to be used that way. Instead, both sides of the drive were two way, with the right drive dedicated to emergency vehicles.

Earlier this fall, the Public Safety Building Committee hoped that with time, drivers would become used to the design. But they acknowledged that they were looking at potential solutions as it became clear that it was a point of confusion with some visitors entering on the wrong side.

cropped photo from FacebookOver the weekend, the Southborough Fire Department posted the news (along with photo right) that the “slight change” was made.

Prior to the change, the Planning Board discussed the redesign proposed by the PSBC. The revised plans showed that each driveway would be used as one way with a widened curb cut in the median. The widened cut is to allow vehicles to cross between the entrance/exit paths to the parking lots they need to navigate to/from.

Public Safety Building driveway proposed changes - 10-19

(click to enlarge)

The new design requires drivers that enter on the right to turn left at the curb cut to proceed to the area with visitor parking, the access road for the golf course, and the one-way bus-only entrance to Woodward School. Planning members didn’t note any issue with that in their October 21st discussion.

Concern was expressed about the ability of emergency vehicles to safely exit from their parking areas. Member Andrew Mills opined that the curb cut appeared too narrow for police cars turning left out of their parking lot. Town Planner Karina Quinn noted that she wanted to see more details including how the fire trucks’ turning radius would work for their exit path from the station garage.

The agenda item was intended for Planning members to decide whether the changes required a hearing for site plan modifications. Quinn interpreted bylaws as allowing it to be considered a minor change that didn’t trigger a hearing. She recommended that given that proposed changes would increase safety, the board should expedite the process. Ultimately, Planning members agreed.

No plan was stated then as to how visitors and golfers who were educated this fall on how to use the driveways would be alerted to stop entering on the left.

Swinging by the station yesterday, I observed that a flashing DPW sign warns approaching southbound drivers of the change. Do Not Enter signs at the base of the exit facing the street is also a warning.

In the October discussion, Planning Chair Don Morris told the public that his board had shown “zero likability” for the driveway design during their Site Plan review. He explained that they passed it because police and fire wanted it.*

At the Planning meeting, Quinn said she wanted more details before proposed changes were made. She wanted to make sure they get it right this time and avoid having to make changes more than once. Morris pointed out that changes had already been made since the driveway was built. He stated that the curb cut originally extended all the way to Route 85. It has since been cut back. (My photo library supports that assertion. But, it looks like the change pre-dated both the opening of the driveway for school bus use and the safety departments’ moves to their new station.) He indicated that he was sure they would eventually get it right.

Resident Requests for Sidewalks and Noise Buffering

Vehicle access wasn’t the only access discussed at Planning’s October discussion. Member Marnie Hoolihan wondered if a hearing should be opened to allow for pedestrian access. She reminded that a resident had raised the issue that there is no sidewalk entry. She asked Quinn if they should consider using the median between driveways to allow it. Quinn cautioned against that as it would force pedestrians to cross emergency vehicle access.

The Planner updated that separate discussions are taking place about sidewalk scenarios with resident Timothe Litt. Later, Litt told the board that the PSBC put his sidewalk request on their agenda. That meeting took place on Friday. PSBC Chair Jason Malinowski updated me that the committee decided sidewalks are outside of their scope:

A few residents have asked why there are no sidewalks coming into the facility up the access roads. While it was considered during the planning phases, it was not built into the design, mainly due to the fact that the sidewalks along Route 85 have not been redone, although it is my understanding that some of this may occur within the Main Street project. This is a complicated issue due to the size of the site, types of vehicles going in/out, as well as the potential implications on drainage if any more surface is added. There are also options that may exist within Woodward, but that would also require coordination with the schools (safety, security, etc.) As you know, the scope of sidewalks in this town goes far beyond this site. One resident (Mr. Litt) did take it upon himself to propose some potential options for consideration. At our meeting Friday, the Committee voted unanimously that this is a much broader issue that we feel expands well beyond the scope of the expertise and charge of our Committee and I was authorized as the Chair to communicate back to the BOS what has been presented to date so that they can formulate any action that they wish to take on this matter.

Malinowski also answered my question about another agenda item – a request from a Latisquama Road resident. He explained that an abutter complained about noise from the heating and cooling system. They are in the process of investigating that:

One abutter reported he could hear the HVAC units 24 hours/day and inquired about adding additional noise screening. Given that the building is constantly occupied, these units do not turn off. To date the following actions have been undertaken: 1) John Parent from Facilities confirmed with the HVAC Company that the unit is functioning as intended 2) I personally went out onto the roof to listen to the noise that was being emitted. I was candidly able to have a conversation with the other staff members that were there without having to change the volume of our voice. 3) I reported back to the resident on these findings and offered to coordinate a time to go into their yard and house to hear the noise for ourselves. I suggested we wait a few weeks until the leaves are all off the trees to potentially hear the noise at the worst possible point. Once this is completed, I will report back to the Committee on any proposed next steps (if any). For now, the Committee took the update under advisement.

*2017-18 Planning minutes support that the board and its consultants raised issues with the narrow distance between the double driveway during the public hearings. It was argued against at all four nights of the hearings. Yet, in the end, the board approved the plan pushed for by the PSBC as meeting the safety department’s needs.

PSBC minutes showed that the issue was raised with selectmen in December 2017 to ask for their support. At that time, the PSBC Chair and the safety chiefs focused on the question of separate driveways vs a combined driveway with painted divider. Police Chief Kenneth Paulhus and then-Fire Chief Joseph Mauro both took the adamant position that winter that they would only support having an emergency-vehicle-only driveway. Project engineers purportedly had a “reasonable plan” to make it work.

So, why not a bigger division between the one way drives? Arguments made during the process indicate that would have impacted the Choate Field recreation area in front of Woodward School.

Updated (11/14/19 8:42 am): Mr. Litt pointed out that I once again mangled the spelling of his first name which is actually Timothe or Tim (not Timothy). My apologies again.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Richard November 13, 2019 at 1:51 PM

Yes, indeed. I started the discussion thread that noted how incredibly inept the design was. Nice to see that this will be fixed. How much will the fixes cost?

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