Neighbors object to proposed Water Street Cinema

Members of the Wurts Avenue Neighborhood Association pose for a photo on the proposed site for the Water Street Cinema. Left to right: Peter Muller, Andy Heiz, Nancy M. Heiz, Anne Muller, Robby Lynch, John Litton and Brian Lynch. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

John Litton made a face when he pointed down to Water Street Market’s upper parking lot. Next to him Nancy Heiz and his other neighbors nod almost imperceptibly before anything is said. On a frigid, gray Saturday afternoon, the lot he points to is mostly full. Only a few spaces are empty.

Developers Howard Sachar and Chuck Silver want to use the nearby market’s parking for their proposed non-profit art house theater. So for the skeptics of the Water Street Cinema, this reality on the ground is a problem.


“This is not a busy Saturday afternoon, but this is about the first time a matinee would start. There’s 64 parking spaces here — I think 68, once you include the four handicapped. Sixty-eight is what is there, 75 is what he needs,” Litton said. “At the very onset he doesn’t have sufficient parking even from them — even if there was no one there.”

Litton lives on Wurts Avenue, a tiny, narrow street off of Main that looks like it should be a one-way street. On-street parking hogs up most of the room along the western edge of Wurts, forcing passing traffic to perform a vehicular tango for available space. The neighbors’ biggest fear is that theater parking will spill onto their street, clogging up an already congested road if the Water Street Cinema is built.

They see that as a likely option if New Paltz gets a busy weekend or if the theater can’t negotiate a deal for off-site parking with a nearby business. “Wurts Avenue is the next available street — and that’s the essence of the parking problem.”

The Wurts Avenue Neighborhood Association wants the village Zoning Board of Appeals to reject a variance to waive required parking sought by theater developers. But they also have a problem with the size and scale of the proposed building. The neighbors said they felt Sachar and Silver’s sales pitch to the village made it seem as if the existing yellow house at 12 Main Street wouldn’t get much bigger.

“It’s a really big box for such a small place,” Heiz said. “It’s like 12 Main Street times four.”

While not totally opposed to the idea of an art house cinema showing documentaries, lesser-known flicks and foreign films, the neighbors don’t want a 360-seat movie theater built so close to them. They’re worried their view of the Shawangunk Ridge will be replaced with a view of a “big-box theater.”

At 35 feet, the building would be taller than existing structures — including the two barns — on the property. For the Lynch family, whose house is immediately behind the proposed expansion to the house-turned-theater, the possibility that they’d be looking at a wall instead of the mountains is startling.

Neighbors said they thought the loss of that mountain view would lower their property values, and they can’t understand how the ZBA might grant the full parking exemption. Heiz said she believed doing so might fail the test laid out by New York State. State laws governing village ZBAs feature a five-point test for granting a variance — most of the points resound with the Wurts neighbors.

Zoning Boards have to consider: 1) if granting a variance would create a substantial change to current zoning; 2) if it the developer has other avenues to achieve the same goal; 3) if granting a variance would adversely impact the neighborhood; 4) if the variance would create a detriment to nearby properties; and 5) if the developer is asking for a variance to address a problem they created themselves.

“In our view, there is no way the theater can be granted a variance,” she said. “How could they possibly get away with that?”

Peter Muller, who co-owns the big gray apartment building next door to the proposed theater with his wife Anne, said he didn’t want the village to start a trend with waiving parking requirements. “Once the Zoning Board of Appeals grant a variance, it sets a precedent,” he said.

Despite the harsh reaction from the neighbors nearest to 12 Main Street, several business owners in the Village of New Paltz welcome the proposed Water Street Cinema — especially those in and around Water Street Market.

A request for comment to Moving Picture Partners, the developer behind Water Street Cinema, in response to the neighbors’ concerns was not immediately returned. However, Howard Sachar has previously noted that they’re building at 12 Main primarily because that property was donated to them.

“It’s either there or it makes no sense,” the developer said during a mid-November meeting. “This is a tough business, and the fact that we would not have to go out and buy a piece of property makes all the difference in the world.”

Zoning Board of Appeals members will discuss the theater again at their Dec. 11 meeting, and they could possibly vote on the parking waiver at that time. You can take a look at the traffic study for the project by following this link:

There are 3 comments

  1. Will Hermes

    The possibility that New Paltz might get an honest-to-goodness art house theater along the lines of the venerable Upstate Films in Rhinebeck—the soul of that town—or the wonderful new Rosendale Theater is thrilling. That the proposed Water Street Cinema might be blocked because it’s short a handful parking spots seems ludicrous, and incredibly short-sighted. Especially in a village that, in addition to street parking and the Water Street lots, has a large municipal lot three blocks away, not to mention a community of thousands of students and other residents—myself included—who happily walk or bike to town every day.

    It seems obvious that the theater would be the most important cultural development in New Paltz in decades, and would be a hugely positive force in a village that, with due respect to our restaurants and fine drinking establishments, has little on offer at night beside places to booze it up. (Seasonal theater aside, SUNY actually delivers little in the way of evening programming.)

    While I understand the concerns of some neighbors about the proposed theater, it makes me wonder why they live in the village. I’m a homeowner here too, and I moved with my family five years ago from West Saugerties in part because we wanted to be in a town with some cultural life.

    I’ve accepted that this comes with some inconveniences. Instead of hearing only peepers at 4 AM on a Sunday, I sometimes hear carousing people coming home from the bars. And while we don’t live on Wurts Avenue, our house isn’t far away, on a block near the college with opposite-side parking. When school is in session, I often can’t find a spot. C’est la vie. The college is part of what makes this a great place to live. A smartly-programmed not-for-profit art-house theater would be another, enriching the life of the community and helping to support local businesses. As an author who has written about the arts for many years, I have a pretty good understanding of the cost-benefit ratio of these things.

    Yes, maybe some specifics of scale need to be tweaked. But I hope we as a village can work together to address the concerns and make the Water Street Cinema happen. I am convinced New Paltz will be better for it.

    Will Hermes

  2. Nathaniel Krenkel

    I agree completely with what Mr. Hermes has to say in his letter.. An art house cinema of this nature would only encourage the already pedestrian-oriented nature of the village. It is the exact type of development that is both culturally and economically beneficial to the community, and such opportunities are rare. I also fail to understand the threat to parking on Wurts St. The spots along the street are public parking, yes? So if a film-goer parks there, so be it. I don’t see how those spots are any one driver’s entitled right. Anyone who parks illegally will suffer the consequences.
    I can only speak from my personal point of view, but a theater like this would result in the following:
    -I would spend more evenings out in the village.
    -I would walk more.
    -I would spend more money at local eateries and restaurants.
    -I would see better films.
    -I would spend less time in front of the TV and more time in the human world.
    -I would have a better sense of community.
    -I would eat more popcorn.

    Nathaniel Krenkel

  3. Julie

    I think I wouldn’t want to be in this art house theater, if a fire started! Yes, I love art house movies, but I don’t want to die THAT way! I’m sure there are fire zoning codes and all that, but it seems like a lot of people to be in that size of a house at one time. Wow.

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