I am David Shepler, the founder of Zero Place and an eight-year resident of the Village of New Paltz. I have two children in the local schools, live a stone’s throw from Zero Place and have a career in technology, not development. I’ve heard from a number of community members about their reservations concerning Zero Place, along with many who have expressed their support. I’ve also read and heard a fair amount of inaccurate facts about the project. Therefore, I write to give both a summary of the facts as well as to make my case for why New Paltz needs Zero Place.
Description. Zero Place, located on the corner of Route 32 North and Mulberry Street, will be a LEED-certified , mixed-use apartment building with 48 residential units (split evenly between one- and two-bedroom units). The ground floor will provide 14,450 square feet of new retail space available for local businesses, artistic pursuits, and other limited uses described in the current Neighborhood Business Residential zoning. It will have approximately 80 parking spots, including 69 spots in the former Park-n-Ride and eleven on the street. Each apartment unit will have an assigned spot and the remainder will be available to the public. The bus stop next to the parking lot, racks for 46 bicycles, broad sidewalks and plaza areas, and the neighboring Wallkill Valley Rail Trail will all contribute to making Zero Place a walkable, community-oriented space — a stated aim of the new zoning.
Origins: The energy and sustainability mission. I began this project well over a year ago, as I recognized that the time was right to pursue a long-time dream to create a net-zero energy building similar to my home but on a larger scale — to demonstrate that this level of energy performance can be accomplished without extravagant funding and using well-established technologies. I aim not only to accomplish this energy goal (including one of the largest solar arrays in Ulster County), but to create a building at the highest levels of sustainability, seeking at least LEED Silver and possibly Platinum (the very highest rating offered by the U.S. Green Building Council). One of my partners, Anthony Aebi, has already put New Paltz on the map as a world leader in advanced energy concepts with his 35 net-zero energy homes. These homes have been recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy and NYSERDA as achieving among the highest levels of performance in the U.S. Now, along with our third partner Keith Libolt (local minister and award-winning Energy Star builder, including of the Lace Mill in Kingston), we will continue to raise the bar for sustainable development, but this time bringing zero-energy living to renters of all types, including those who qualify for affordable housing.
Addressing a shortage of high-quality housing stock. Our research indicates a significant shortage of high-quality housing in New Paltz, particularly for long-term renters. Our 48 residential units will help meet the demand, offering residences with all utilities included at affordable prices. The units will be modest in size but well appointed with quality kitchens and details. Residents will also not have to worry about paying a single utility bill! We aim to find tenants who share in our energy-efficiency ethics, and we will provide them insights into their energy consumption on the device of their choice.
Providing affordable housing. Added to this, Zero Place will have at least five units that will be classified as “affordable housing” per the village code, helping the village achieve its goals and make a dent in the severe shortage of such housing.
Providing quality retail space to local businesses. Retailers have told us time and again that New Paltz lacks quality retail space, and particularly up Route 32 North. The 14,450 square feet of space will provide seven to ten new retail spaces (depending on size needs), and we are committed to keeping all the businesses local. Many have asked what retailers/uses will be in Zero Place, but it is way too early to know given that it will not be available for quite some time.
Improving the tax base. As most are aware, New Paltz struggles with its tax base, and the combination of retail and residential will add considerably to that.
Improving the aesthetic experience of 32 North. Let’s face it…the 32 North corridor is not attractive. It has a disconnected selection of largely automotive-focused businesses. It’s time we make attractive, walkable spaces with a great variety of retail options (including for the arts)!
Engaging the rail trail. Zero Place will make a wonderful place for the community and visitors to park their bikes, enjoy a local café and generally enjoy village life. We are in discussions with the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail Land Trust and Association to improve the common border and walkways and to create a park-like atmosphere similar to the feel of Water Street Market.
Bringing the new NBR zone to life. The village (and particularly former Mayor West) worked hard to make the NBR zone a reality over many years. The logic of the zoning is clear. The village has chosen to accommodate growth by increasing density rather than sprawl — to push up rather than out. Yes, the building is taller than anything else in its immediate area, but I agree with village plans that the major corridor of 32 North is an appropriate place for such density and height (limited to four stories). I am offering Zero Place, a local project committed to sustainability, to push forward the transformation and realize the village’s vision.
I know that some are concerned about the visual appearance and overall height and size of Zero Place. With release of this letter, I am making available our renderings to the New Paltz Times and to everyone through our website www.zeroplace.com. Please see for yourselves how we are striving to increase the green space on the lots, which were almost entirely paved over as the STS automotive shop and Park-n-Ride. We are adding a streetscape complete with trees and benches, that will provide a natural boundary to a plaza-like center that can host patio seating and even small farmers’ markets and events.
Aesthetically, in an effort to tie Zero Place to features of our great village, we are adding brick and blue stone accents to the retail floor and Mohonk Mountain House-like clapboard siding to the upper floors, while preserving a unique look and feel to the building. Zero Place will greet drivers entering the village from the north with an attractive space and remind them of the energy/sustainability commitments by making visible a small subset of the solar array.
Like the rest of my local team, I’m deeply passionate about Zero Place, our environment and the Village of New Paltz. I hope that you will join with me in celebrating everything that Zero Place can be. You can contact me through my website or on Facebook. I will never turn down a phone call or avoid discussing the project with anyone. I encourage you to send me your feedback and provide me ideas for making Zero Place even better for all of us.
Village Resident and founder of Zero Place
P.S. The name “Zero Place” comes from our net-zero-energy, zero carbon, zero emissions goals. To me, “zero” means everything.