New Paltz Chamber releases a guide for businesses applying to the planning-zoning boards

Toni Hokanson, Michael Smith and Bob McKenna. (photo courtesy of the New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce)

Toni Hokanson, Michael Smith and Bob McKenna. (photo courtesy of the New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce)

The New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce wants to clear the path for businesses to open up shop in the area. Last week, the chamber released its “Practical Guide for a Business Applying to the Planning-Zoning Boards in New Paltz.”

For developers who might not know what the town or village planning boards are looking for, the document will likely be a gold mine. It includes tips about what to do and what not to do.


“Don’t rely on obtaining variances. Choose a project and property that fit together,” the Practical Guide reads.

It also advises project developers not to ambush a planning board with new documents the night of a meeting or to think the review can be rushed through. “Don’t expect the process to take less than six months – longer depending on the size and scope.”

Michael Smith, the president of the chamber, said the idea was to keep it simple.

“About every single municipality has a checklist. When you go in, they tell you what to do – do this, do that, go to the building inspector,” Smith explained. “But nowhere was there anything that says ‘do not do this.’ In other words, we wanted to put something out there with not only some of the ‘do’s,’ but some of the ‘don’ts.’”

Chamber leadership has worked on the guide since last summer. Smith called it a joint effort that featured help and consultation from Toni Hokanson, director of marketing and training at C2G Environmental Consultants and the former town supervisor, and Bob McKenna, the former director of planning and development for the City of Newburgh.

That group also interviewed local business owners, asking them what their frustrations with the local planning process were. “It was an input of many, many people.”

Developers and business owners are encouraged by the guide to stand up for themselves and ask questions when something a planning board member says doesn’t make sense.

“If the planning board spends time discussing municipal policy during your review, note the time frames and contact the chair after the meeting to ensure that the time is not charged to your project,” it reads.

It also counsels businesspeople that they have the right to ask the board chair to cut off board members who are spinning their wheels with a repetitive line of questioning. “Ask the chair to call for a vote on the issue,” it advises.

Smith admitted that some of the business owners who’ve been before the local planning boards had an impression that New Paltz wasn’t business friendly. He downplayed that idea.

“Not all the time. Sometimes that happens. And then when you investigate it and talk about what happened, then at the bottom line it comes down to miscommunication,” he said. “A lot of the times, there was a lack of communication.”

Planning board members and developers are in a unique position to frustrate each other if they don’t talk through or understand clearly what their roles and responsibilities truly are. Smith said the Practical Guide offers some commonsense tips to avoid headaches on both sides of the table.


DOs and DON’Ts of planning in New Paltz

For projects to be properly reviewed in a timely manner before a Planning or Zoning Board, the following set of guidelines has been provided by the Chamber and is based on past experiences:

• Do meet with the Building Inspector (BI) and Assessor, even before purchasing or going into contract. The BI will confirm that your project is allowed in that zone and in form you of any special regulations that will affect your plan (e.g. Historic District, wetlands, Putt Corners Corridor, etc). The Assessor can give you special district information (e.g., water and sewer). This is also a good time to ask the assessor about the property’s assessment and the availability of any tax exemptions.

• Do, when discussing your project with the Building Inspector (BI), ask if there are any NYS Fire Prevention and Building Code issues that might apply to your development proposal (e.g., building separation distances, minimum access requirements, etc.).

• Do strongly consider engaging a professional consultant to assist you in preparing your application and in the development of your project. Most applications require an existing conditions report, site plan, and other maps, sketches and documents that can be very technical in nature. In addition, certain projects may involve flood plain, wetlands, historic preservation and transportation issues that require familiarity with local, state and/or federal regulations and they will benefit from the expertise of a design professional.