As reported in a recent issue of the New Paltz Times, the crowd in attendance at a meeting convened by the Ulster County Transportation Council at the New Paltz Community Center on May 7 expressed enthusiasm for one of the three options that a county planning study recommended for alleviating congestion at the existing Adirondack Trailways station at the corner of Main and Prospect Streets: Expand on-site, and develop the landlocked parcel behind 123 Main Street to become a 100-plus car parking lot with a new egress onto Prospect.
But the village residents most impacted by such a project — the families of Prospect Street — were not in attendance at that meeting, held around dinnertime on a school night. “It kind of snuck by us,” says William Murray of 15 Prospect Street ruefully. Had they been there, the tenor of the discussion would have been much different, as has become clear from the outpouring of outraged letters to the editor in last week’s issue.
The perceived threat to the peace and safety of their “lovely neighborhood, where kids go house to house all the time,” in the words of parent Kristen Masson-Diedhiou of 21 Prospect, has inspired a group of Prospect Street residents to work together to oppose the county planners’ on-site expansion concept. At a front-porch gathering on Memorial Day weekend, they poured out their arguments against the plan, which Christine Marmo of 8 Prospect characterizes as “ill-conceived at best, absurd at worst.”
Although it causes them a long list of inconveniences, group members seem to have made their peace with the Trailways station at its current scale as a neighbor. Many question the need to expand it, and some express resentment that their neighborhood might be used to alleviate the parking needs of downtown businesses. “We haven’t seen any statistics for why we need more parking” for bus commuters, argues Stephen Cook of number 8, “There’s always parking on Prospect.”
“I don’t understand how [building the parking lot] relieves congestion, only by bringing more people to that location,” Murray says. In the view of Allison Nash of number 11, “If you build a 100-car parking lot, cars are going to come down Prospect,” which becomes much narrower north of John Street. “It would become the driveway to the parking garage.”
“This lot is not for commuters; it’s parking for those who want to park and drink,” alleges Cook. The proposed lot site lies partially behind Shea O’Brien’s pub, whose patrons, according to residents, already cause noise and disruption along their street after closing time. “I don’t know why you’re attracting drunk drivers,” says Aja Whitney of 8B Prospect, predicting that inebriated parking lot users would “turn left onto Prospect Street” in order to avoid police lying in wait along Main when the bars close. Terry Dungan of number 27 notes that buses already sometimes use Prospect, even though it is not a designated through street, and predicts that expansion of the station and increased ridership will also increase “pressure to come down the street.”
“Buses cannot make the stop at the stop sign at John Street” on account of their size and momentum, Dungan points out. “The drivers say that they’re always afraid for pedestrians. It’s an accident waiting to happen.” “The most important thing is to avoid tragedy. We shouldn’t have to wait for a tragic event,” urges Frank Rumsey of number 47. “These are our children. We don’t have to lose them for the sake of easy bus access.”
Several residents predict that the demographics of the neighborhood will change if it becomes less safe for pedestrians, particularly children. “My concern is the impact on families in New Paltz, which are becoming rarer and rarer,” says Murray. “Prospect Street will become increasingly rental housing and transients, instead of people who live here full-time and pay taxes.” Nash agrees: “If this went through, so many people would sell their houses. It would become student housing.”
The “Option 2” expansion plan, which would involve demolition of the apartment building at 6 Prospect, is viewed as particularly alarming by the residents’ group, since it would remove some of the existing visual, noise and smell buffer between the bus station and the houses on the side street. Opponents challenge the veracity of the statements at the Intermodal Feasibility Plan meeting by Michael Allen of Behan Planning, who said, “We have met with the property-owners; they are aware that we are interested.” While that may be true of the owners of the bus station itself or of 123 Main, say the Prospect Streeters, the owners of 6 Prospect and the Citgo station on the corner have not been contacted at all. “Sam and Rick said, ‘Keep us in the loop; we have heard nothing,” according to Marmo.
A key part of the opposition campaign is boosting support for the second-most-popular option discussed at the planning meeting: construction of a new bus station on the site of the STS building that recently burned down, next to the existing Park & Ride on the west side of North Chestnut Street. “32 North is compatible with the Master Plan,” argues Nash. “It’s a perfectly suitable spot that’s already paved and on a major thoroughfare.”
“If people are excited about getting parking for shoppers in the village, the 32 site would solve that problem,” says June Wheeler of number 15, “without encouraging people drinking in bars to get in cars and turn onto residential streets.”
Citing another important selling point for the North Chestnut option, “Mayor [Jason] West has encouraged development for that corridor,” says Cook. Dungan points out that the zoning code was even changed to boost development along Route 32 North within the village boundaries. Wheeler and Rumsey both note that, for many students living in the village, the Route 32 option would actually be a shorter walk than Prospect Street, and several of the residents recommended expansion of the UCAT shuttle schedule to make the 32 North site more convenient for SUNY students living on campus.
The group of Prospect Street residents is now gearing up for next steps in their opposition to the expansion proposal, beginning with a barrage of letters to county planning officials. Be sure that the next time a community traffic planning meeting is held in New Paltz, their voices will not go unheard.