In response to feedback from neighbors and others, the developers of Zero Place unveiled a new look for the zero-net-energy mixed-used building at the June 21 meeting of the Village of New Paltz’s Planning Board. The new versions show a slightly shorter building and use variations of color, window style, roof line and street trees to further reduce the apparent height and mass of the structure, but not everyone in attendance thought it was enough.
Neophyte developer David Shepler explained how he and his consultants studied the architecture of downtown, as well as that found in Rhinebeck and a redeveloped building in Harlem, to understand what elements contribute to the styles that people find visually appealing. Those elements, incorporated in varying degrees in a total of seven new iterations of Zero Place, break up the sight lines of the building in ways that Shepler said he’d never been conscious of before. The windows of the former Barnaby’s, for example, are curved at the top, and there are decorative window grates in front of the glass. Steep Mansard roofs seem to draw the eye downward, making a top story seem less consequential. Street trees break up the overall sense of a structure, such as the four-story building at the corner of Church and Main streets.
The new versions use these ideas to reduce the visual height of the building, but it’s also actually smaller. The roof line has been dropped by two feet, to 44 feet eight inches. In the three versions shown to Planning Board members, the first three stories are faced in brick with the fourth being clapboard; the idea is that the bricks will draw the eye down. More street trees are in evidence, and over time their impact would only increase. Two versions has Mansard roofs on one or both ends, which together with the recessed middle section gives the impression at first glance that it’s actually several structures.
“We’re trying to draw on traditional, historical elements while building for the future,” Shepler said. “It creates a tension,” he explained, because it compromises the energy envelope that is his focus to achieve.
The roof deck, which was one of the first elements of the design to receive scrutiny because of the potential light and noise impacts, remains in the new design. It’s smaller, however, and on prompting from board members Shepler agreed to move it toward the side along North Chestnut Street. The reason it’s there at all is because the elevator shaft — needed for accessibility — creates shade that makes a portion of the roof unusable for solar panels, and Shepler said that he “didn’t want to throw away” the space.
Craig Shankles, a neighbor of the project, called the changes a “good start,” but continued to urge for three stories rather than four. Many residents continue to express surprise that the NBR zone allows for buildings of up to 50 feet tall.
Board chairman Michael Zierler called the brick facing in particular a “huge step” in addressing the concerns of community members, and thanked Shepler for listening and responding to that feedback. He reiterated the value of both street trees and on-street parking in the NBR zone, as they both contribute to the sense that the neighborhood is a walkable, “pedestrian-scale space.”
While the focus of the meeting was specifically the building design, other topics were touched upon briefly. The applicant was asked to provide documentation to explain the calculations about water and sewer usage, as well as to detail the reasons soil is being removed so that anyone at an involved agency reviewing the application would understand that some toxic materials leached out as a consequence of the STS Tires fire. Because traffic is another contentious issue, board attorney Richard Golden said it might be worth hiring an independent traffic consultant to review the report prepared by Shepler’s team.
Review of those aspects of the project is expected to be a focus at the next Planning Board meeting.