PITTSFIELD — The City Council sent Lee Bank back to the drawing board over its proposal for a new bank branch at Reed and South streets, voting unanimously to take up the issue again during the council’s next meeting, on Sept. 14.
“There’s too many smart people in this room that want this project to go through not to make this work for everybody,” at-large council member Earl Persip III said before motioning to table the item.
The roadblock between the bank and a yes vote was plans to change traffic on Reed Street from one way to two ways between South and Elizabeth streets.
Representatives from Lee Bank came before the council Tuesday night for a public hearing only for the drive-thru windows included in the plans for a two-story building that would serve as a new branch and house three apartments.
But, when the bank’s presentation ended, discussion revolved almost entirely around the traffic flow on Reed Street.
Neighboring business owners said that the proposed traffic change would encourage drivers to “sail” through their right of way between Reed and Housatonic streets to avoid traffic delays at the corner.
John Bresnahan stores limousines and hearses at his Reed Street property, as part of his role as managing partner and funeral director of Devanny-Condron Funeral Home. He said that if Reed Street became two ways, he wouldn’t be able to leave the property in his professional vehicles without entering the opposing lane of traffic.
“For me, that’s a liability,” Bresnahan said.
Bresnahan said that he and the other business owners have been working and navigating Reed Street for more than 30 years. He and neighbor Dick Laureyns said that, after all those years, they feel like the city and bank have left them out of their equations.
“We just want a seat at the table,” Laureyns said.
Bank representatives said that without a drive-thru and traffic change on the street, there is no way forward for the project. Attorney Bill Martin of Martin & Oliveira said his client, Lee Bank, was sympathetic to their neighbors’ concerns but trapped by their own needs.
“Reed Street needs to be two ways for the first 290 feet, and it needs to be drive-thru teller service,” Martin said. “If those things can’t happen, then this project is extraordinarily unlikely to go forward.”
Martin said a drive-thru is necessary to meet customers’ desires for drive-thru banking.
Bank representatives said that the right-of-way issue raised by neighboring businesses was not their concern and shouldn’t impact the bank’s plans for the site. But, several council members disagreed, saying they weren’t going to favor the needs of a new property owner over existing ones.
“I think it actually is your problem to resolve, because you asked for the drive-thru,” Persip told representatives.
Project engineer Jim Scalise of SK Design Group said that, originally, the bank proposed only changing traffic patterns on the first 250 feet after South Street and leaving the remainder of Reed Street as is, but that city officials rejected that idea over concerns that a street with one-way and two-way traffic would be too confusing for drivers.
“It doesn’t solve any problems, and it creates confusion, so, why would we do that?” Commissioner of Public Utilities Ricardo Morales said of a partial two-way street.
“We simply have been in a box in terms of the city limitations and our own limitations as to how to solve a neighbor’s problem,” Martin said. “And we feel stuck by that.”