New Paltz: the year that was and what’s to come

Mulching asparagus beds planted years ago by Dan Guenther, Brook Farm Project farmer Creek Iversen (on far right) is pictured with farmhands (left to right) Shay Otis, Natalie Tummolo, Will Wheeler, Dan Moon (on tractor), Chris Natalie and Jaklin Levine-Pritzker. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Mulching asparagus beds planted years ago by Dan Guenther, Brook Farm Project farmer Creek Iversen (on far right) is pictured with farmhands (left to right) Shay Otis, Natalie Tummolo, Will Wheeler, Dan Moon (on tractor), Chris Natalie and Jaklin Levine-Pritzker. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Susan Zimet and the rest of the Town Board began 2013 by taking a hard look at benefits received by municipal employees, debating over the need for a deputy supervisor and jumping headfirst into consolidation of New Paltz’s two municipal governments.

In January, local officials reported that $1.62 million could have been saved if a town-village merger occurred in 2011. That financial claim, and other parts of the process of consolidation, came under fire later in the year.


Critics of consolidation, like village Mayor Jason West, tried their hardest to retain the status quo and keep the dual government setup alive. West’s repulsion to joining the governments — and his heated rhetoric and accusations — would have lasting repercussions for town-village relations through 2013. Sally Rhoads, his deputy mayor, resigned to join the rank-and-file village trustees.

But New Paltz’s elected leaders had hoped to vote on a merger by the end of 2013 — possibly during the general election. The two boards — despite objections from West and Jeff Logan on the Town Board — roughed out what they wanted to see: a Village of New Paltz that stretched to the town border line; one with a seven-member board, a volunteer fire department and non-partisan elections.

Financing was sought. Village and town officials chased a $50,000 state grant to pay for a tighter financial estimate than the disputed $1.62 million in savings that was reported. Supporters trotted out their “One New Paltz” signs. Opponents took to Facebook to mock their counterparts’ zeal.

Consultants and experts — like SUNY New Paltz’s Gerald Benjamin and Peter Fairweather — were called in to testify before the two boards.

After months of debate, the two boards argued the merits of hiring a slew of different law firms to guide them through the process of merging. Eventually, they settled on the Rochester-based Center for Governmental Research.

Consolidation also reared its head in the 2013 village elections, with two pro-merger candidates and two skeptics facing off. Voters went with a mixed ballot and elected pro-consolidation Tom Rocco and anti-consolidation Rebecca Rotzler.

But then in June, the dream died hard. CGR’s legal consultant ended up discovering that New Paltz could not merge into a “coterminous village” as it desired, since it would require a special law from Albany. Try though they did, New Paltz politicians could not win over Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston.

The assemblyman did not sponsor enabling legislation to allow a merger, mostly because he felt it wasn’t right to change state law to suit the circumstances of one locale. State Senator John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, did want to sponsor the law, however.

Left with only the options of annexation of the town or dissolution of the village, the pro-consolidation crowd sent the issue back to the Government Efficiency Committee, which started the whole process in 2010.

If you happened to pick up the New Paltz Times last year, chances are if you weren’t reading about consolidation, you were reading about Wilmorite’s Park Point New Paltz. Both issues dominated throughout the year with nearly 20 articles written on each topic.

Park Point New Paltz, like its counterparts in Rochester and Syracuse, is a student rental housing complex aimed at college students. SUNY New Paltz Foundation, a non-profit, and Wilmorite teamed up in a desire to construct the 14-building complex on 50 acres of land adjacent to the campus on Route 32.

Wilmorite would build and manage the apartments, leasing 42 acres from the foundation for 46 years. On the other eight acres of land, owned by JAM of New Paltz, Wilmorite wants to build $4.5 million in sewer and water infrastructure to service the complex.

Most New Paltzians don’t have a problem with the complex itself, yet it’s been contentious. A public hearing on the developer’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) in January brought out crowds of opponents and supporters.

College administrators, including SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian, like Park Point because they believe it will alleviate transfer students’ dire need for housing.

In substance, Wilmorite’s site plan didn’t get a lot of flak. Although environmentalists did want to see more green design features and solar panels, they also wanted the Rochester-based firm to mitigate soil contamination from the site’s past as an orchard.

The real gripe with Park Point — throughout all of 2013, into the present day — is that the developer wants a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement from the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency.

Town and village officials took issue with Wilmorite’s financial estimates submitted in its DEIS. They believed the developer low-balled the actual cost of police, fire and ambulance services the 732 new residents would require.


Planning Board members decided to call in a consultant to double check that financial report — on the developer’s dime.

In mid-March, Wilmorite’s lawyers complained to the town that the Planning Board had overstepped its authority under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). The Planning Board hired a consultant anyway.

That consultant, CGR, took issue with Wilmorite’s claim that the project would pump $7.8 million into the New Paltz economy and create 73 new jobs. They believed it closer to $1.2 million in economic stimulus and eleven new jobs.

Police costs — while not as high as the town Police Commission’s $12.5 million figure — were also said to be higher than Wilmorite’s estimate.

With the contested finances sorted out, the Planning Board called another public hearing for the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).

In late December — after hearing roughly the same complaints they heard one year ago — the board closed the second public hearing.

Expect this project to remain an issue next year, because Park Point New Paltz is currently teed up for a third public hearing in January — albeit for its PILOT application with the Ulster County IDA.

In April, New Paltz mourned the passing of one of its most beloved citizens — Ludwig Montesa. An icon in the arts and music scene, Ludwig attended just about every open mic night he could make. His outlandish act consisted of a mix of karaoke, show tunes and comedy. On April 7, the 34-year-old was found dead at home after an epileptic seizure. News of his passing led to an impromptu shrine being erected on Main Street. Eventually, after some organizing, his friends created a holiday — Ludwig Day — in his honor.

Brook Farm Project supporters also had a rough year in 2013. The CSA farm’s lease expired, and its landlord — the Open Space Institute — decided not to allow the farm to continue to stay on the land.

Supporters rallied around Creek Iversen, the farmer, and his unique ability to foster a sense of community through music, agricultural education and fun. They held protests against OSI and the land’s new tenant, the Glynwood Institute.

Glynwood plans to use the 323 acres owned by OSI — 20 of which are the old Brook Farm site — to create an agricultural business incubator program to train new farmers.

What should have been a bountiful season filled with fresh organic produce and fruit for another local farm, the Phillies Bridge Farm Project (PBFP) came to an abrupt and fruitless end this past summer. During a shareholder’s meeting, a decision by the PBFP board ended the organization’s 2013 community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, terminated its farm managers and accepted the resignation of its executive director Donna Eis. Board members cited several reasons for ending the season, including “personnel problems, insect/rodent infestation, equipment breakdowns, soil inadequacies from overuse and infrastructure weaknesses.”

The Mohonk Preserve celebrated its 50th anniversary this past year and in April held a ribbon cutting for the grand reopening of its visitor’s center. Other events were held throughout the year to commemorate the milestone, including the first annual Rock the Ridge 50-mile endurance challenge.

In 2013, the Mohonk Preserve also unveiled its plans to restore the iconic Testimonial Gateway. The Testimonial Gatehouse, located on Route 299 West in New Paltz, was built in 1907 and once served as the main eastern entrance to Mohonk Mountain House. It led visitors down a stately pin oak allee. Mohonk Preserve plans call for the restoration of the long corridor of oak trees back to its former glory. Along with restoring the Gatehouse, the project will also restore and create a “nature and discovery” trail from the Testimonial Gatehouse to the surrounding ponds.

Another anniversary was acknowledged this year when the almost-all-volunteer New Paltz Rescue Squad celebrated its 40th year of serving the community.

This past fall, Historic Huguenot Street entered a time of transition following the departure of executive director Tracy Doolittle McNally. Board members appointed Rebecca Mackey to serve at the helm as the interim director. One recent event typifies where Mackey sees Historic Huguenot Street headed — the re-interment of an African-American slave’s skull. The unidentified slave’s resting place near the Deyo House was disturbed during a renovation in 1894. The skull sat in storage, lost in Historic Huguenot Street’s archives for years. A SUNY New Paltz anthropology professor determined that the skull was that of a middle-aged black male — not an Esopus Indian as previously thought. Mackey, the HHS board of directors and Susan Stessin-Cohn contacted pillars of the local black community, welcoming them to an invitation-only reburial ceremony at Crispell Memorial French Church. Crispell’s churchyard burial ground holds many prominent French Huguenot settlers. But it’s also been closed to burials since the Civil War. The unnamed slave is the first black person laid to rest there.