Traffic, noise at armory site concern nearby residents

          After months of planning by city officials, residents affected by the proposed new Army National Guard Armory and Stillwater Fire Department central station got to weigh in on the projects before the Stillwater City Council Tuesday.

The council held a public hearing on the armory due to ordinance changes necessary for the project to move forward. Residents’ main concerns expressed during the hearing were traffic and noise connected with the new fire station and armory.

The new fire station includes a plan to extend Maryknoll Drive, which currently connects to Interlachen. With the armory, Maryknoll would extend across Myrtle Street and connect to Boutwell Road North allowing access to the fire station, but change some other traffic patterns.

Those changes, according to traffic consultant Jeff Bednar, would have minimal affect on neighborhood traffic in the vicinity of the armory.

“We believe there will be some through traffic in the Maryknoll and Boutwell neighborhoods and we came to this conclusion because of the propensity of drivers to return to an established route,” he said. “Twenty-five percent of the vehicles at Deerpath would travel south while 75 percent would continue to use Deerpath and go southbound because there’s not enough difference in travel time for people to change their route and most drivers opt to stay with a route they’re familiar with.”

Bednar added that he expects the neighborhoods affected by the change would see an additional 10 vehicles an hour during the 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. morning rush and about six additional vehicles an hour from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. evening rush hour.

“It would be hard to perceive unless someone counted the cars,” he said.

Mary Piontek, who lives on Maryknoll Drive, disagreed with Bednar’s assessment. She said although the data changed, she still disputes it, adding that traffic and noise has increased over the last 30 years she and her husband had lived in town. She encouraged the council to consider other options.

The Maryknoll extension was considered the best option for the new access point to the armory according to county officials at a previous council meeting.

Piontek also encouraged the council to look at traffic signals for left or right turns only.  Her husband, Frank, added that he believes people are more likely to opt traveling a straight path on Maryknoll all the way to Oakridge. He encouraged rerouting traffic from Maryknoll to Brick and Deerpath over to Northland.

“There is a great deal of land to the west of the armory that would be developed in the future which would add more traffic,” Frank Piontek said. “It’s (traffic) not going to go away and it’s not going to lessen.”

Deann Bergerman, who lives on Wildwood Lane, voiced concerns about having three right hand turn lanes in a row on County Road 12 and a traffic light at the top of a hill. A county representative said this issue is expected to be addressed by medians and the possible closing of Boutwell Road going forward.

City Planner Bill Turnblad also addressed concerns from neighbors about noise problems from a 24-hour operation like a fire station and its impact on the neighborhoods.

“The goal of the fire department is to serve and to be a good neighbor. They use a screening system to determine if loss of life is a factor of the fire,” he said. “If something like this is involved they will use the sirens because the timing is very important. Once they get out on Myrtle Street, the siren sound will fade, and it will fade quickly.”

Ward 3 Councilman Jim Roush asked if a pre-emptive switch to engage emergency lights was an option. He was told it was possible and would reduce noise as well.

David Korte thanked the council and the city for their commitment to public safety by balancing response times throughout the city. Another resident mentioned that he had concerns about National Guard training noise.

A representative from the National Guard said that training is a very low-noise environment and the Guard uses the armory more as a classroom setting. There is no shooting outside and there will be very few heavy machines stored at the facility.

After the hearing the council voted unanimously to annex the land, rezone the property from AP to RB, change a zoning ordinance to allow armories and fire stations in RB zones, approved a special use permit for the fire station and any other variances. A vote of 4-1 for a special use permit to be issued for the armory was passed with Councilwoman Micky Cook dissenting.