Some residents who have been asking New Paltz Town Planning Board members for more study regarding the Foothills project are now wondering if the entire process hasn’t been tainted from day one. That’s because town engineer David Clouser recused himself from the application last September because he was selling his practice to Barton & Loguidice (loh-JOO-dis), the firm retained by Mohonk Preserve to prepare those plans.
Andi Weiss-Bartczak told board members during the public hearing on the subdivision aspect of the project that her “jaw dropped” when she read about the deal. “You folks have got to start all over again,” she said.
The fact that Clouser had apparently been talking about an acquisition for a period of time before that recusal also raised a red flag for Irwin Sperber, president of Citizens of the Shawangunks. “We assumed he didn’t question the traffic study because he trusted Mohonk Preserve,” Sperber said, but now it seemed there could be other factors at work. “Even the appearance of anything like an ‘old boys’ club’ needs to be brought out into the open,” he said, adding that the situation failed the “smell test.”
Board attorney George Lithco was the person to break the tradition of not responding to testimony. He noted that Clouser had recused himself from the project in late 2015, but when asked, he acknowledged that the review process was started in 2014.
Resident Bruce Simon said that Clouser had a “blatant” conflict of interest.
That was also a word that Weiss-Bartczak used to describe it, saying that his “conflict is interest is so blatant” that it called the entire process into question. “Everything he said is tainted,” she told board members. “We have no way of knowing when they started talking to each other.”
Simon also had choice words to describe the board members themselves, among several subjects he touched upon during the hearing. He said that testifying was “like appearing before the stone faces of Easter Island.”
That remark garnered a response from board member Lagusta Yearwood later on in the meeting. “Our role is to listen, not back-and-forth discussion,” she said. “It’s important to read what we create from those comments.” Shouting from the audience, Simon made clear that he disagreed with her position.
Parking restrictions questioned
As town Planning Board members move towards finding ways to address complaints about excessive, often illegal parking near Mohonk Preserve, not everyone thinks that less street-side parking is a good idea after all.
Members of Citizens of the Shawangunks have said that they worry the development around the Foothills — including 80 parking spaces near the Testimonial Gateway — will actually increase the parking problems as people seek to avoid paying day fees to access those lands. The most recent proposal to address that would involve placing low fences in the town right-of-way of problem areas, such as Butterville Road, making it impossible to park a car off the pavement. Parking on pavement is an offense that can earn the vehicle owner a citation from town police.
The other point of view was expressed at the meeting by Nancy Schniedewind. “The parking plan on Butterville raises questions of accessibility,” she said, and “discriminates against Mohonk Preserve members with disabilities wanting short walks.” That’s because there’s no plan to include any parking on Lenape Lane, meaning that without parking along Butterville, the nearest lot would be the one by the gatehouse. “I’m a member that would be restricted,” Schniedewind said. In her youth, “I held the record for the 50-yard dash, but some days [now] I cannot walk from the gatehouse. From the top of Lenape is fine.”
In addition, she noted that there are “members of the general public who can’t afford Mohonk Preserve fees,” who would be cut off from accessing the views and walks available in that area.
Betty Marton, a Gardiner resident who has been a member of the Preserve for nearly all of her 20 years in residence, has written about that last point more than once and has encouraged others to speak out. “There needs to be open access to open space,” she said when reached after the Planning Board meeting. “If Mohonk Preserve closes off parking on Butterville Road and cuts off access, then something very valuable and important to the character of the community will be lost. We will be a gated community. You can only walk so far before you have to pay.”
It’s a theme she touched upon in a December 2014 letter to the New Paltz Times which recounted what happened when she took visiting family members on a walk in that area on Thanksgiving, and encountered a ranger for the first time. When asked if they were members, Marton wrote, “In front of my 14-year-old son, I lied. I said we all were. If I had told the truth, that only my immediate New Paltz family has been members since moving to this area, we would have had to pay $72 for my brother, sister, nieces and in-laws to enjoy that 45-minute walk. What good will come of Mohonk’s bad neighbor attitude? We are landowners and taxpayers, but our relatively small two-acre lot doesn’t really afford a decent walk and there are times with visiting friends and family, especially in a large group, when we prefer to be off the road. Is the board of directors really choosing to play the role of enforcer to this degree, and ultimately to ensure that there are no entry options other than through a manned gate? Is this kind of privatization necessary for preservation? I can’t imagine that it is.”
In an e-mail rallying people to attend this meeting, Marton wrote, “Is this a privilege that should belong only to those who can afford it? Is gating all access to the open space that is so integral to New Paltz not another wedge in a society that is increasingly divided between those who have and those who have less? Is this who we want to become?”
Marton said that she understands there are some free trails in the Preserve, but the views accessible along Lenape Lane and Pine Road have been free until the past couple of years, and she wonders if restricting open space to those who can afford it is the direction society should be headed. While she appreciates that maintaining the Preserve does cost money, the question of access concerns her. She added that a friend compared it to the efforts of Robert Moses, who “didn’t want to build the subway all the way out to Jones Beach, to keep the poor people out.” Marton doesn’t know what the solution is, but she believes the present plan isn’t it.
During last week’s meeting, landscape architect Ted Kolankowski and Preserve board member Ron Knapp sought to downplay the concerns raised by Schniedewind. Accessible parking will be available at both the gateway and Hasbrouck House, Kolankowski pointed out, suggesting that those should be sufficient. Knapp made clear that the parking-control solution was a town initiative, rather than being suggested on behalf of the Preserve.
Regarding a lot on Lenape Lane itself, Knapp said, “Some of us favor it, but management of multiple areas is an issue.” Building on Kolankowsi’s comments, he added, “A lot of people have a preferred walk [in the Preserve], but don’t know you can go from Hasbrouck House and have a similar experience.”
Barns and slaughterhouses
Bruce Simon spoke to Planning Board members last week about his concern regarding a proposed barn at the Hudson Valley Farm Incubator. His comments on the subject largely echoed those in a letter he sent to the New Paltz Times. Simon asked if board members were aware of the planned livestock barn construction, and tied it into a number of other issues which are often considered discreetly. He took note that community members had asked when Glynwood had started that project if a slaughterhouse might be erected, similar to those at other Glynwood sites. He contrasted this proposed livestock barn with the planned demolition of the Studley barn on lands owned by the Open Space Institute (OSI) along Butterville Road. It was with OSI that the Glynwood lease was originally approved; that property is now part of Mohonk Preserve.
Further, he opined that board members appeared to be “lurching from crisis to crisis,” all while giving undue deference to developers. After he concluded speaking, Simon was unable to hear several of the board members and consultants well from the front row and, after being told the microphones were for the television audience, pulled his chair up beside that of Planning Board attorney Lithco.
Board member Lagusta Yearwood asked Preserve representatives point-blank if a slaughterhouse was in the works, and received an emphatic “no” in reply.
Michael Moriello, the attorney representing the Preserve, cut in as soon as he could to say that the barn is “really not an issue for the board,” because it is deemed a type 2 action as to potential environmental impacts, and there’s no other reason in town law for Planning Board review.
That’s when Simon decided to take advantage of his unusual seating. “How can you tolerate it?” he said, loudly enough to be heard in the entire room.
Lithco then asked him to return to the audience, and Simon told him he couldn’t hear from there. “I can hear you too well,” Lithco replied.
Simon went on to say that the Studley and proposed livestock barns are within “spitting distance” of one another, and attempted to explain how all these projects are closely related.
“My client objects to anything Mr. Simon said after the public hearing,” Moriello proclaimed.
Simon left after the next agenda item was called.