Many town residents came to speak about the controversial CVS project at this Monday’s town planning board meeting, but few remained when board members finally discussed their next steps. No decision was made, but there is now a clearer sense of where board members. Areas of concern with the project included traffic, clearcutting the property, community character, and the amount of fill proposed to level the lot.
The meeting was adjourned a few minutes before midnight, after chairman Michael Calimano instructed his colleagues to come up with specific questions they’d like to have answered. He polled members on several areas of concern to gauge whether they were now satisfied with the information presented, which included questions of segmentation, alternate sites and site plans, impacts to flora and fauna, and noise during and after construction.
Lagusta Yearwood argued for a thorough environmental impact statement on virtually every aspect. At the other extreme, Lyle Nolan felt there was sufficient information available to make a decision now. Other members’ opinions varied more across the topics.
Segmentation concerns arise over the fact that the developer had only two buildings the plans, but a third pad site was being actively marketed. Most members were satisfied with adding a theoretical building with an “average” use, though Yearwood thought that it was a failing not to more carefully review all the allowed uses.
What developers do
The applicant Trans-Hudson Management’s consultants have maintained that no tree survey should be required, because they’re going to cut them all down regardless. “That’s what developers do,” noted Amy Cohen. Amanda Gotto pointed out that the town’s clearing and grading law is intended to preserve as many trees as possible.
“I’m not as concerned about the types of trees,” said Adele Ruger, who didn’t like the idea of removing them all.
“There has to be some alternate solution,” agreed Tom Powers.
Nolan didn’t agree. “Those trees were not there when they built the Thruway,” he said. They held “no value.” As Calimano sliced and diced the concerns into narrow segments, Nolan maintained that position as questions of noise abatement and habitat were revisted.
Yearwood reminded her colleagues, “We don’t have to take their word for it. We haven’t asked them for an alternate site plan,” which would be possible in preparing an EIS. She argued for alternate sites, and also provided a list of what she felt were more suitable locations.
Amy Cohen had also researched other sites, and found that renting sufficient space in the ShopRite plaza would run about $100,000 a year. She would rather have her own building, she said. Putting herself in the shoes of the landowner — whom she said has held the property for about 40 years and has had difficulty marketing it because of the proximity of the Thruway. She speculated that “perhaps this is the best for them.” She said her heart went out “to that family.”
“A developer always wants to develop land,” noted Gotto.
Most board members didn’t think habitat destruction was relevant, as the animals could move and the plants were not endangered. “It’s not the Hundred Acre Woods,” said Nolan, displaying a knowledge of classical children’s literature.
“I’m disappointed in us,” proclaimed Yearwood. She felt board members were supposed to be looking at impacts, rather than “accept the narrative that is fed to us.” She stressed she wasn’t opposed to construction at the site, but the idea “that it doesn’t matter at all concerns me.”
The general sentiment is that additional noise in an already noisy area shouldn’t be considered. Yearwood, however, did feel this impact was worth studying more closely.
Traffic, community character
Traffic is a significant concern, but a complex one. The proposed removal of the channelized right-turn “slip lane” has raised many a hackle around New Paltz, but that’s likely to move forward regardless of this project’s fate, to make way for a bicycle connector.
Numerous residents have called for a more extensive study of traffic impact on side streets, and on Main as far as the Manheim intersection. Town traffic engineering firm Creighton Manning has been retained by CVS on other projects, leading to discussion about how unbiased the review of the traffic report could have been. Regarding Creighton Manning, Yearwood said, “The appearance of impropriety is impropriety.” Nolan was of a mind to trust the hired consultants, and noted that there weren’t many traffic specialists to choose from, and the others all do work for developers as well.
Cohen pointed to Rite Aid as evidence that major traffic jams were unlikely. CVS will be at a more sensitive and busy intersection, however, on the main corridor for all emergency services in the town. In fact, NY Rising money is expected to be used to make the fire station there into the main one, although plans have not yet been drawn up.
“Any development will lead to traffic,” noted Cohen. Ruger and Powers both wanted more study.
As for community character, Calimano offered an argument that’s been used since at least the Crossroads development was proposed in the last decade. It’s hard to pinpoint what makes New Paltz unique, therefore that factor shouldn’t be considered. “I don’t understand what the community character is,” agreed Nolan.
Finally, looks and jobs
“I feel like we have been stonewalled” when asking questions about the appearance of these buildings, Ruger said. “I don’t trust the site-plan review to find out what this will look like.”
Cohen, on the other hand, felt that the progress from a generic CVS design to a promise, as yet unconfirmed by actual plans, to make the structure look like the Hampton Inn has satisfied her concerns.
Gotto said the matter went beyond the appearance of the buildings. What had been proposed didn’t struggle to pinpoint the character of New Paltz. What had been shown was “nothing but a parking lot and concrete,” not suitable for a rural community characterized by trees and locally owned businesses. She was concerned that “what they’re bringing us is really a benefit.”
As for those wider impacts, Cohen said that CVS alone will provide some 30 jobs, and she was “blown away by what they offer” in terms of pay and benefits.
Calimano wound down the discussion with warnings about how complicated it was to put together a scoping document of the necessary specificity. He urged his colleagues to come up with exact questions for the next meeting on September 12.