While the Village of New Paltz struggles with the looming need for alternative sources of water when the aging Catskill Aqueduct shuts down for repairs in 2016/17, mayor Jason West sees opportunities to leverage villagewide infrastructure improvements into a more economically vibrant and sustainable hamlet beginning in 2015. Since the village cannot grow outward, planning — including a new Master Plan that creates incentives for infill and increased density — is key to the village’s revitalization, according to the mayor. Also part of West’s vision is a second sewage treatment plant.
What are the major issues currently facing the Village of New Paltz?
The major issue currently facing the village is affordability and the high cost of living. The village has taken steps to do what we can — most importantly by rezoning Route 32 North into high-density mixed use. As this area of the village gets built out, we can expect to ease some of the burden simply by providing more housing and retail space. We are making plans to reexamine all the zoning in the village, and will likely identify other areas we can better fill in, but this is a long-term solution.
The village is also likely to adopt an Affordable Housing Law in January that would require a certain amount of new housing built be set aside as affordable in exchange for density bonuses. The law also establishes a system to give preference for locals, first responders and others.
What are your top three priorities for 2015?
1) To build out Route 32 the way it has now been zoned requires more water and sewer infrastructure be installed; we may even need to build a secondary sewer plant. The village engineers are preparing a report on what would be needed and what it will likely cost. Getting that infrastructure funded and built will take years, so it’s important to get started now.
2) To continue to improve our existing water and sewer infrastructure; most importantly, seeing the $4 million water plant upgrade completed, finalizing plans for a temporary water supply when DEP shuts down the Catskill Aqueduct for repairs and finding more funding to repair our aging sewer lines.
3) Revising the Master Plan and — more importantly — reviewing and revising our zoning code are two of the most important things we can undertake in 2015. Our current Master Plan is adequate, but could be improved and made into a more useful and workable document. The zoning laws that come from that Master Plan have not been systematically updated in decades, if ever. A Master Plan process in tandem with zoning law revisions could redesign the village into a more pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use hamlet, giving us more of the development we want (like more “Main Street”-like places) while protecting the things we want to protect (like wetlands and historic sites).
Looking back at 2014, what do you see as your major accomplishments?
The two accomplishments of which I’m most proud are the revisions to our rental inspection process and the creation of the Environmental Policy Commission.
If the Village Board adopts this law, there would be three major changes to how we do rental inspections. The first is that the law streamlines the inspection process and gives the building inspector more tools to enforce compliance. The second is that the law creates something called a “displaced tenant” and requires that landlords provide housing for tenants forced to move due to certain conditions (such as not having heat). The third major change is that there is no longer a set fine in the law. Instead, the fines can range from $0 to $1,200 at the discretion of the building inspector.
The village has had an Environmental Conservation Commission for years, but it had become moribund by last year. Since there was effectively no EnCC, I took the opportunity to redesign it into the Environmental Policy Commission. The old EnCC had five people appointed with the vague mission of helping the environment. The new EPC is policy-based, with each commissioner by law required to complete one project per year. There are other small changes (each commissioner may have two assistants called “policy researchers” appointed, for example); but the effect is that we now have a vibrant EPC, which already has two victories: the plastic bag ban and research on energy options for the village. Don Kerr chairs the EPC, with Gian Starr, Joanna Torres, Dennis Young and Rachel Lagodka serving as commissioners.