The two planning boards of New Paltz — town and village — met together Monday night, in what may be the first of several joint meetings. Much of the conversation focused on finding ways to plan together for a more unified community, rather than one where the sidewalk ends at the village line. There was an agreement to share more information regarding applications in the commercial corridors of Main and North Chestnut streets, possibly organize training sessions catered to the planning needs of the New Paltz area, and seek ways to help advance a joint comprehensive master plan for the village and town. In addition, some healthy debate about the level of public participation allowed at meetings occurred.
Technically, this was a meeting of the New Paltz town Planning Board, with village Planning Board members at the table, as it occurred during one of the town’s monthly workshop meetings at the Community Center. Since the Village Board reviews applications at every meeting, while the town reserves its second meeting each month as a non-voting workshop, it was agreed that the town should host any future joint meetings.
Town Planning Board chairman Mike Calimano started the conversation on the 32 North corridor, where the village has created a gateway business district and the town is also looking to encourage commercial development. “You recently adopted zoning that changed the minimum setback from 25 to 15 feet,” he said to village members. “How did that go?”
There haven’t been any applications to review in the new village zone yet, but village Planning Board chairman Maurice Weitman explained the rationale was to put parking in back, to encourage pedestrians to walk from shop to shop, and “so when you drive by, you see businesses, not cars.”
Village member Michael Zierler, who was involved in developing the code when on the Village Board, said, “This is already a throughfare, relatively high-speed, but we wanted to make it more accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists.” The design standards call for elements like sidewalks and street trees.
Village member Rich Steffens said that rear parking made it more likely to share spaces by creating connections in the backs of lots, but Calimano noted that most commercial applicants bring plans “that supply the building from the rear,” and didn’t have much room for an entrance, as well. He lamented a “lost opportunity” when Stop & Shop was built on the same footprint as the old Ames, rather than closer to Main Street.
Adele Ruger, a town Planning Board member, pointed out that infrastructure is needed to further develop that corridor. “There is no water and sewer north of Mulberry Street on the west side of 32,” she said. “On the east side, there’s little that can be developed. The new wetlands law the village is working on would further hinder development on the west side. It’s challenging for property owners,” for those reasons and because the lot sizes in the town tend to be small. Ruger noted she owns property in the corridor.
Much of the conversation focused on the report from which the village’s B-3 district was created, and the detailed standards of design in it. Weitman said he wished that the pictures themselves had been incorporated into the code, feeling it would make it all the clearer. He differentiated “design standards” from “architectural review,” which is how he described a process to judge a building’s appearance, rather than the features and layout of the site plan itself.
Other issues the board members felt to be mutual included the sign rules along Main Street and the perennial parking problems. On the former, a unified code would be easier, but Calimano recalled how difficult it was for the town to pass its present sign legislation. As for parking, the largest issue — finding land to site new lots — is beyond the scope of planning. Zierler also noted that few visitors to the village are willing to walk an extra 400 feet to park cars for free near Village Hall, preferring the paid Plattekill parking.
This was mostly a discussion about what these two boards can have useful discussions about. Neither can do much about the planned new bridge over the Wallkill or the expanding network of trails through the town and village, but they will both impact how planning is done in the future. All that and more could be addressed in a joint comprehensive plan, and Weitman has long argued that his entire Planning Board should be involved on that level, while town councilman Jeff Logan, in the audience, expressed that the current thinking was to involve only a small number of board members in the process. Calimano noted that storm water runoff was an area of growing concern for both boards.
One administrative difference between these two boards is on the question of public comment. The town has long had a public comment period at every meeting, but in the village, residents may only weigh in during the public hearing for a specific project. Town member Lagusta Yearwood was surprised by the lack of comment at village meetings, and Ruger said she had found it frustrating. Calimano thought public comment was helpful, but ran the risk of turning into a dialog with the audience rather than a focused meeting.
“I think it lets people be heard,” said Ruger.
“That’s not the purpose of the Planning Board,” Weitman replied. “It’s valid for people to have a voice, but not at a meeting.”
After the notes from this meeting are compiled, a schedule of and agendas for future joint meetings will be discussed.