Some village of New Paltz residents aren’t expressing confidence in the “expanded EAF” strategy that New Paltz Village Planning Board members have undertaken to resolve environmental issues with Zero Place, and said as much during the board’s November 1 meeting. The Zero Place proposal is for a mixed-use building to be constructed on the empty lot at the corner of Mulberry and North Chestnut streets. It would include 48 apartments over a floor of retail space; the entire structure is intended to be net-zero in regard to energy usage, hence the name. Board members have opted to hold off voting on the project’s environmental significance, which would trigger a series of strict deadlines as an in-depth environmental impact statement was prepared.
The impacts upon Historic Huguenot Street (HHS)should not be underestimated, warned that organization’s board chair, Mary Etta Schneider. “Most other communities that have national historic resources, such as HHS, embrace them. They assure visibility, proper signage, traffic control and easy access to sites. . . . the best-known towns for history want their historic resources to be visible, not hidden behind a wall of tall buildings.”
Schneider went on to note that while Zero Place is a single building, “it is precedent-setting.” Schneider’s concern about building height is echoed by others who belong to the Friends of New Paltz group, as this is the first project under NBR zoning, which includes a 50-foot maximum height. Other buildings in the village are typically restricted to 35 feet.
Neighbor Cara Lee told board members she detected a “sense of conflict” as they weighed the zoning rules for the NBR, which stands for neighborhood-business-residential, and environmental standards. Board members had agreed that Zero Place would represent something that’s significantly different, but it’s exactly the type of difference envisioned by the architects of the new zoning, including the late planning board chairman Maurice Weitman. “Don’t feel confused,” Lee said to board members, because “both are in play.”
Jo Margaret Mano hearkened back to a letter sent to board members by Nan Stolzenburg, a planner who has written some of the workbooks used to navigate the process outlined in the State Environmental Quality Review act, or SEQR for short. In that letter, Stolzenburg questioned using the answers to long-form questions in the environmental assessment form as the mitigation, rather than as a tool for identifying what must be mitigated. Mano further urged board members to take a “broad view of community character,” and evaluate the cumulative impact of smaller issues together.
The idea of the “expanded EAF” is to allow the applicant to revisit areas of concern and propose mitigation measures in an effort to eliminate those red flags without diving into the formal EIS process. As board chairman Michael Zierler explained it, a vote to make a positive declaration of significance — which would trigger the need for an EIS — could be made at any time. “A pos-dec is not being excluded,” he said. Attorney Richard Golden is expected to recommend an exact process at the November 15 board meeting, but it’s not clear how much more public input will be requested. “There’s already been a lot of public input,” Zierler explained, and the areas of concern appear clear. On the other hand, it “might be more efficient to have a public hearing” at some point during the process, regardless.