A public hearing was opened October 27 on the question of a gateway moratorium in New Paltz, and most, but not all, speakers were in favor of the idea. The gateway moratorium is a nine-month period during which planning and building along Route 299 from South Ohioville Road to the ShopRite plaza would be limited while new zoning for this gateway into the community was written and passed. Some residents began requesting such a pause in development in January of 2016, a reaction at least in part to the proposed Trans-Hudson proposal to build a CVS drug store and Five Guy Burgers and Fries at the corner of 299 and North Putt Corners Road.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Steve Turk is not in favor of that pause, because he’s been trying to bring Wildberry Lodge to fruition since early 2014. He told town board members that of late he’s been seeking investors, and that news of a possible moratorium has caused prospects to “fall off, one by one.” In addition to purchasing the land, Turk said that he and his wife had invested “57 years in this community” and more than $750,000 in development costs. “Nothing good will come from a moratorium,” he warned.
Master plan committee chair Fran Wishnick sent in a letter indicating that she thought resources were better spent on that project, but a longtime opponent of CVS, Kevin Borden, warned against a “false dichotomy” about choosing either the gateway or writing a new master plan. “Use this as an exercise to flex our community’s planning muscles, he said. Kitty Brown agreed, calling the moratorium a down payment of that larger project.
Peter Kaufman, who chairs the bicycle-pedestrian committee, told members of the council that the entire committee is in favor. Developing under current zoning would make bicycle improvements “basically impossible,” which matters because a key connection in the county’s rail trail system will need to come through this part of town.
Quoting former planning board chair Bob Lasher, David Porter said that a planning board “administers, not plans, despite its name.” True planning happens when the zoning is written, and the zoning for this gateway is long since out of date.
“I’m thinking of starting a scrapbook,” said Amanda Sisenstein, to commemorate what she said was 20 years of detrimental projects that have been opposed. The solution to that, she said, is zoning that reflects community wishes, and lets potential developers know what’s expected ahead of time. Outdated zoning misleads developers into submitting plans that cause outrage. Her argument could easily apply to the entire town, but pressure to develop in this gateway area seems particularly high at the moment.
Planning board chairman Mike Calimano wanted to make sure council members were clear on the language. For example, he wanted to know if the relatively low-impact projects that fall under the simplified site plan review would be exempted. He also pointed out that some 75% of this particular B-2 zone would be included in the new gateway zone, and invited them to consider if that’s a desired consequence. There is another B-2 zone, but Calimano specifically did not include it in these remarks.
The hearing was continued to December 15, but council members Marty Irwin and Jeff Logan aired their views during discussion of the town budget, reasoning that litigation resulting from the moratorium or resulting zoning changes must be considered during that process.
“Where are the moratorium costs in the budget?” Irwin asked. Supervisor Bettez said that they were included in this year’s spending plan, but that didn’t satisfy entirely. Irwin pointed out that it would only work “if we passed and paid for it this year,” else that money flows into the fund balance, which is budgeted to be as low as legally allowed.
The expense of litigation was again raised, but not all members of the board saw the risk in the same way. A nine-month moratorium would conclude before most legal actions were decided, meaning that attorneys may advise against filing any action. However, filing suit against the zoning which is passed is another matter. Irwin estimated it could cost as much as $213,000 to defend against all suits that could be filed by people with standing.
“You’re welcome to make a motion to add that amount to the budget if you want,” said Bettez. He did attempt to do just that, but the supervisor asked him to hold off for a meeting to allow time to recalculate the figures he’d presented that night. He also added, “I won’t add it based on made-up numbers.”
Irwin bristled at that suggestion, saying that his “placeholder” figures were clearly marked and only used where something more concrete was not available.
“Just because it’s math doesn’t mean it’s a real number,” said Bettez.
Logan said that the only way to guard against legal action would be to include exemptions for applications now in process. He has claimed in the past that this moratorium is intended to target CVS, and his call for exemptions emphasizes that point. He said council members were “driving into a dark tunnel with no plan how to come out.”
At the last meeting, Logan didn’t want to hear attorney Victoria Polidoro’s predictions about lawsuit cost in a private attorney-client session, and Irwin agreed it should be discussed publicly. Polidoro declined at that time, but during this discussion Julie Seyfert-Lillis told Logan he’d have a better grasp of likely litigation if he’d just talk to her.