In the months to come, our local culture and character will be on display as those who share a common vision for the rural bucolic nature of New Paltz and the awe-inspiring Shawangunk Ridge and Foothills attempt to cope with a serious difference of opinion within their ranks. This difference has arisen over a land-use application by the Mohonk Preserve recently submitted to the Town of New Paltz involving 857 acres west of the Wallkill River.
The non-profit Preserve is seeking approval for its “Testimonial Gateway Foothills Project.” You will hear this phrase many times in the months to come as several long-time members of the Preserve, self-described “Mohonkians,” take issue with the proposal crafted by the very organization they have in the past praised and supported. Several residents of New Paltz and Gardiner, who have designated their group the “Citizens of the Shawangunks,” gathered at the New Paltz Town Hall last week after a scheduled Planning Board meeting that would have included a presentation by the Mohonk Preserve but was cancelled due to the lack of a quorum.
Two articulate spokespersons for the group are local residents Bruce Simon and Chris Ullrich. Amongst the many issues discussed, two seem fairly straightforward. First, the Citizens of the Shawangunks will be requesting that the Planning Board conduct a “Full Environmental Impact Study” as part of its responsibility as the lead agency in the required State Environmental Quality Review of the project. Second, the group is questioning whether the Mohonk Preserve should be required to request approval at the outset for its entire long-term three-phase plan for the management of the Foothills acreage rather than just the Phase One Gateway project. This project has been well documented in the public record and there is ample time for all of us to learn about the details and form our own opinion. The Town of New Paltz website contains the Mohonk Preserve project narrative and a complete set of maps is available at Town Hall. The project will be discussed at the June 9 meeting of the Planning Board at Town Hall and public comment will be permitted at the beginning of the meeting.
Why and how this rift between the Preserve and some of its members came about and how it will be resolved will be part of the narrative in future pages of this paper. My hope is that the process toward a resolution will represent the best of the integrity, intelligence and rationality of people who care deeply about New Paltz and the natural and largely pristine Shawangunk Ridge and Foothills. There is no question that reasonable people who disagree can still conduct themselves in a courteous fashion as they seek to work out their differences. It’s not always easy to achieve civility and respect for one another’s point of view when emotions run high, but it’s a goal worth striving for.
Town Board embarrassment
Suffice it to say that our Town Board has had better nights than the one two weeks ago when what should have been a simple vote on a pro-forma resolution sparked an inappropriate and extended diatribe on the part of Kevin Barry as he lit into representatives of the Mohonk Preserve regarding their tax-exempt status (May 22 YouTube video). The issue is clearly one that Mr. Barry feels very passionate about, but it was neither the time nor the place for this particular discussion, and Susan Zimet’s failure to properly control the meeting certainly compounded an already embarrassing situation. Only Councilman Torres seemed to understand the basic rules of order by calling for a vote. Not a good night for our Town Board.