Design of proposed Lee Bank building

A draft of the Lee Bank building proposed at Reed and South streets in Pittsfield. 

PITTSFIELD — Neighbors at Aaron's Plaza on South Street are concerned about how a proposed Lee Bank development would impact the safety of Reed Street, and traffic in and around their parking lots.

The City Council will decide Tuesday night whether those concerns are enough to slow the project. 

Dick Laureyns and Jim Torra, who own the properties on either side of Firestone Complete Auto Care on South Street, said they worry that the bank's proposal to reconfigure Reed as a two-way street would impede vital delivery traffic to businesses in the nearby plaza. Reed currently is a one-way street between South and Elizabeth streets.

Opening Reed Street to two-way traffic, they argued, would cause a bottleneck to form behind any delivery trucks loading or unloading at nearby Firestone. They said there could be a potential safety concern if cars tried to navigate around the trucks and drove into the oncoming lane of traffic. 

Illustration of Lee Bank traffic flow

Preliminary site designs presented in a traffic study by Vanasse Hangen Brustlin show the flow of traffic through Reed Street proposed by Lee Bank.

"You've got a bird in the hand," Laureyns said during a Traffic Commission meeting last week. "You've got a viable, adjacent plaza that employs many people, that's been there for a long time, that use that road heavily all the time. We should be a part of what's going on in that street."

The bank plans to construct a two-story building at Reed and South streets to house a new branch with two drive-thru windows. The second floor would house three apartments.

The proposal made the rounds at city committees over the past week.

The Traffic Commission voted 2-1 on Aug. 2 to recommend the traffic change. The next night, the Community Development Board voted 4-1 to recommend a special permit for a drive-thru window, and approved the bank's request for a loading zone exemption and front-yard exemption.

The bank's proposal for Reed Street was presented by Jim Scalise, the president of SK Design Group.

"The applicant isn't discouraged by this," Scalise said. "I think the planning and approval process is just that; it's a process. So, I expect there will be some back and forth still."

Scalise told the Traffic Commission that the traffic change would normalize the way drivers already use the road, and allow better access to the bank site and the abutting businesses.

And he said an analysis conducted by traffic consultants Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, commissioned by the bank, found that the new branch would add about 100 peak-hour trips to the intersections of South and Reed streets and Reed and Elizabeth streets. Those intersections currently register about 800 peak-hour vehicle trips.

"This project doesn't really generate enough traffic to get to a level of concern, at least from the engineering standpoint," Scalise said. 

In a memo from VHB presented to the commission, engineers noted that "the city has requested no widening along Reed Street under the transition to two-way," and that while "the applicant maintains no objections to the city's requests, however VHB has concerns that the roadway width is not adequate to support two-way traffic with on-street parking."

VHB engineers found that Reed Street varies between 20 and 22 feet. 

Laureyns said that any two-way traffic on Reed likely would cut through their parking lots to avoid stoplights on South Street. 

Commissioner of Public Utilities Ricardo Morales said during the Traffic Commission meeting that use of the parking lots as a shortcut isn't something the city regulates. He added that it's up to the individual property owners to find a solution to that problem. 

"We have nothing against the bank going there," Torra said. "Believe me, what was there before was a total eyesore. Our concern is the two-way street."

Scalise said the bank plans to present its proposals for Reed Street and the drive-thru windows to councilors during the Tuesday meeting. 

Meg Britton-Mehlisch can be reached at mbritton@berkshireeagle.com or (413) 496-6149.

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