That flooding happens in New Paltz is unarguable. Areas near the Wallkill River are considered flood plains because the water can rise into them during extreme conditions. Village law, however, includes a designated flood zone which doesn’t have a clear relationship with where water goes, and the owners of the properties there would like to change that.
The flood zone includes just four properties on Water Street: the old box factory and three adjacent houses. Kip and Adele Ruger own three of the four properties, while the other is owned by Rich Steffens, who is also a member of the village’s planning board. Kip Ruger appeared at the village board meeting on October 26 to describe a vision for what the old warehouse could become should those properties be moved into the adjacent gateway zone.
Gateway zoning makes sense, Ruger said, because of the ever-increasing traffic along the rail trail. It’s also that trail that makes the flood zone an odd one; it’s built on a high berm constructed to keep the railroad out of rising waters, and that berm protects these properties as well.
“It’s not spot zoning,” Ruger said, but an extension of the same zone which made Water Street Market the destination it has become. Former village planner Bren White was in favor of moving these properties into an adjacent zone, Ruger pointed out, and the only other option is R-2.
What the Rugers would like to do is take down some of the existing structure and replace it with several smaller buildings. Among the benefits Ruger described would be improved sight distances at the peculiar intersection of Water Street, Mohonk Avenue, Plains and Pencil Hill roads; the redesigned property would no longer be as close to the road as it is now. That would also make plowing the snow there an easier task. A new view of the ridge would be revealed, and paths through the property would improve walkability. Businesses in the mixed-use development would also have bathrooms, which may be available for passersby.
Above the storefronts would be 18 apartments, studios and one bedroom. While stressing that it is illegal to discriminate in housing, Ruger said that he expects they would attract mostly young professionals and retirees.
“Mother Nature does not respect zoning,” remarked Don Kerr. “What about floods?” Ruger explained that 95% of the zone is above the 100-year flood plain, and meeting the remaining requirements would not be difficult.
Mayor Tim Rogers signaled that a study of the impacts should be done, and that he’d like the Rugers to pay for an expert that would answer directly to village officials. Board members agreed to refer the idea to planning board members and village planner David Gilmour for comment.