New Paltz’s decision on CVS project leads to greater scrutiny

 

(Photo by Lauren Thomas)

(Photo by Lauren Thomas)

At their October 24 meeting,New Paltz Town Planning Board members voted 4-2 in favor of an extensive environmental impact statement being prepared for the Trans-Hudson Management project. The so-called CVS proposal calls for the titular drug store, as well as a Five Guys Burgers and Fries, to be placed on the 5.6-acre parcel bounded by the Thruway, Route 299 and North Putt Corners Road, with a third potential pad site to be developed at a later date. Only Lyle Nolan and Amy Cohen voted against the additional documentation, with chairman Mike Calimano abstaining in the interest of remaining neutral, he said.

Calimano is not in any way convinced that more information is needed, which is why he tasked the four who voted for a positive declaration of significance with determining how to proceed. That process began at 10 a.m. October 27 at the town hall trailers on Clearwater Road. It was noticed as a public meeting because a majority of planning board members were expected, but technically wasn’t because only Amanda Gotta, Tom Powers and Adele Ruger were present, with Lagusta Yearwood not being available.

Town engineer David Clouser was also present, and took charge of the proceedings. He described the purpose of this “working session” was to revisit part three of the environmental assessment form and align it with the need for an EIS. Clouser typically completes parts two and three of the EAF for town planning board projects, although that’s technically the responsibility of board members themselves. To revise part three, he explained, part two would also need to be revised, because the former’s narratives are based upon answers to short-form environmental questions in the latter.

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Amanda Gotto immediately wanted to speak about the third pad site. “It’s clear there will be one,” she said, and its impacts should be included.

Clouser deferred discussion of that to planning board attorney George Lithco, who believes that this project does not represent an illegal segmentation. Several board members disagree with his position, maintaining that to ignore the impacts of an additional structure is to avoid any meaningful review at all. Clouser did note that the third pad would have independent water and sewer systems, presumably making it easier to review at a later date.

Gotto pressed. “Impervious surface would not change?” she asked. Clouser again dodged, pointing out that any such changes would be subject to a later site plan review. He made a similar response when Powers asked how a third pad would impact the fill needed.

“How does that not sound like segmentation?” Gotto asked. “It seems like we are trying to make a decision on only part of a parcel.”

“It could never be touched,” replied Clouser.

Adele Ruger had discomfort of another kind. “It doesn’t feel like segmentation,” she said, but studies for the entire parcel seemed to her to fall short.

Clouser explained that the septic would be adequate for the two buildings proposed, and the traffic study did address the possibility of the third building.

“I’m questioning the traffic study,” Ruger replied.

The engineer then led board members through the exercise of answering the standard questions, noting which ones hit the often very high thresholds, and which did not. In many cases, he tried to convince the volunteers that particular issues would be better addressed during site plan review, after the environmental review is complete. It’s an argument Calimano has been making for months, without success. That’s what Clouser said was best for the small area of steep slopes, and he tried it again regarding the length of construction, but not convincingly.

For construction, the threshold is more than one year or multiple phases, and Clouser said that the expected time would be 12 months. “I don’t know too many projects that come in on schedule,” said Ruger. She asked Clouser if he did.

In response, he noted that the Stop & Shop and ShopRite plazas are far larger than this project’s proposed footprint, but did not actually address the question of projects being completed on time. Asked again about Hampton Inn, he said he wasn’t sure how long that project has been under construction.

While he acknowledged the amount of fill to be trucked in — now estimated at 27,335 cubic yards — would fall under the “moderate to large impact” category, Clouser again pointed out that much of that impact could be addressed during site plan review, such as the truck schedule.

“The impact on the land is large and irreversible,” Gotto said.

Animal impacts could also be large, and Gotto was skeptical that they could be fully understood without several site visits at different times of year. While it’s only a fragment of second-growth woodland, she pointed out it could easily be used by many airborne species. When Clouser pointed out that standard protocol regarding bats in particular was to wait until they stopped roosting before destroying those trees, she said, “and they’re not there when they return?”

Clouser called the existing species to be ousted “typical of any development,” but Gotto noted that impacts to “predominant species” count toward the threshold, not just the endangered ones. “If you’re a bird, butterfly, or deer, you don’t worry about a highway,” she said.

Regarding surface water, Gotto said that members of the public felt the wetlands inspection was “cursory,” and being done in July made it nearly impossible to identify anything of note, such as a depression which may be a vernal pool. A more meaningful study would have to wait until the spring.

Water under the ground could pose a challenge, as this property is not included in the nearest water district, meaning wells must be drilled. The nearby firehouse is on municipal water because the well turned salty, which is what ruined plans to use the aquifer under the old Plesser property on Paradies Lane. Freihofer’s, across the street from this project, was included in the water district for the same reason. Should water under this property prove too costly to treat, the applicant will apply for water district inclusion. Due to the complex nature of local water systems, that would require approval at the village level.

Concerns were also raised about the visual impact to the Shawangunk Scenic Byway, and to views from atop the ridge.

Normally the next step after a positive declaration is to hold public hearings about the scope of the environmental impact statement. This work session, and the ones to follow, fall between those two steps. At the next one — yet to be scheduled — economic and traffic impacts will be reviewed.

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