New Paltz Planning Board not thrilled with plan to pause development in gateway area

(Photo by Lauren Thomas)

(Photo by Lauren Thomas)

New Paltz Town Planning Board members are largely not enthused with the notion of imposing a nine-month development moratorium in the gateway area near the Thruway. Nevertheless, they agreed to provide comments as per a town council request, either to make an unappealing law better or, in the case of the minority of members in support, to make it all the stronger.

Board members had a number of concerns with the proposal during their meeting on Monday night. One is that the area described as the gateway stops in the middle of a block, up to Dunkin’ Donuts on one side of Route 299, and Empire Savings Bank on the other. Planning board chair Mike Calimano thought stopping at a road would make more sense, either North Putt Corners or Cherry Hill, but to use the latter would leave just a small portion of B2 zoning in that part of town.

“The whole B2 is a problem,” said Lagusta Yearwood, because that zoning has a car-centric philosophy underpinning it.

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Amy Cohen thought that if that entire B2 zone should be included, that the other one — on Route 32 North — was equally ripe for rezoning. She said that residents of that area were now clamoring for a similar moratorium. Cohen also asked about the L1 (light industrial) zoning on South Putt Corners Road, where speculation about a sewer plant by the high school generated considerable controversy during the Zimet administration. “People were very concerned about building in that corridor,” she recalled. There are additional gateways to town as well, she noted.

Board member Amanda Gotto believes that this is a small step toward updating the comprehensive plan, which to her understanding is more expensive than could be easily budgeted for. Cohen, in written comments submitted to the planning board and the New Paltz Times, wondered why the cost of the moratorium and anticipated litigation isn’t in the 2017 town budget.

Most members felt that nine months was a very short time to do the work needed. “Nothing will get done in nine months,” said Lyle Nolan, because “there’s no consensus in New Paltz.”

On the other hand, town council member Julie Seyfert-Lillis observed that a firm already retained by the town, Barton & Loguidice, will be able to start the process right away. Yearwood observed, “There’s a lot of momentum to get this going.”

A majority of them also expressed that they wanted current applications exempted, out of a sense that this moratorium is intended to target the CVS/Five Guys application specifically. “I think it’s a shame they’re even considering it,” said Nolan.

In her written comments, Cohen said that she is “embarrassed for this town.”

Adele Ruger was among those who felt the moratorium was inappropriately targeted. “I feel they don’t trust us” to appropriately review the CVS application, she said.

Comments received from the Ulster County Planning Board were lengthy; Calimano said it was the “lengthiest resolution I’ve seen” come out of that body. Among the comments was the suggestion that current applicants be allowed to proceed with review “at their own risk,” understanding that no final approval could be granted during the moratorium period, and that the details of the new zoning won’t be known until it is itself passed as law. The benefit would be that some aspects of site plan review are likely not to be altered by the anticipated zoning changes, and might be completed during that time.

Another county comment — this one mandatory, unless town council members overrule it with a supermajority of four to one, an unlikely scenario given that two of them are staunchly opposed — is to include a legislative intent in the law. That is another point of frustration for Cohen, who wrote, “Nobody knows (or will say publicly) why we need this law. Lots of vague talk about new zoning and promises of public discussion to follow.”

 

Circling around CVS

While many planning board members are concerned that the gateway moratorium is intended to stop the CVS project, there is no collective will to rush approval of it, either. Board members pressed Calimano to provide a time line, including when they might actually vote on a declaration of significance. The chairman explained he prefers to make sure that concerns aired by his colleagues are adequately addressed, to ensure that if an environmental impact statement is required, a clear scope will be readily assembled.

As this project has been undergoing review for years, one of Calimano’s goals is to make sure that if the questions raised had been previously addressed, current members were aware of that information. For the remainder, he is demanding that his board members articulate their concerns in a way that can be translated into specific studies or additional information that would be produced for an EIS.

There was some disagreement about that approach. Local activist David Porter, for example, opined from the gallery that the EIS process itself is intended to gather the information Calimano seeks, and that the chairman’s process might be intended as an attempt to avoid creating such an in-depth analysis.

Nevertheless, board members looked again at traffic and community character impacts at this meeting. For traffic, the most challenging aspect is ascertaining plans to retool that intersection as well as build a connector through there between two local rail trails. Attempts that have been purportedly made to arrange a meeting with state DOT officials have yielded nothing as yet; Calimano promised to try harder.

Some board members continue to seek more in-depth traffic studies, as they find the ones previously performed inadequate. They also desire they be performed by an independent consultant, not one retained by the applicant.

Amy Cohen raised the idea of a bicycle rest stop on the site, with places to sit and relieve oneself, and perhaps consult maps, as bicyclists ride from the Hudson to the Shawangunks or Kingston on the county’s ever-expanding trail system.

During the community character discussion, Calimano continued to frame such concepts as “nebulous,” but Amanda Gotto disagreed. She pointed out that numerous plans and studies about the town clearly define what its residents desire its character to be, and she rejected the notion that it is at all difficult to measure this project against those standards.

Fiscal impacts also fall under community character. Board members are pushing for a study akin to the one done for Park Point, in part because the CVS corporation has a reputation for winning lowered assessments in court. Attorney George Lithco advised that the town assessor does not feel such a case is likely to be successful in this situation, but they were unimpressed by such hearsay. In any case, they wish to understand the increased cost of community services such as police to determine if the expected taxes paid will completely offset those.

The discussion is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

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