New Paltz Village Planning Board members focused on the parking and traffic aspects of the Zero Place development for much of their July 5 meeting. While the current proposal complies with the requirements of the Neighborhood Business Residential (NBR) district, this project — first in the new zone — continues to raise questions about that zoning, and about larger issues such as traffic control along State Route 32 in the village.
Chairman Michael Zierler reported that several stakeholders met with representatives of the state Department of Transportation to discuss the project. Topics that require input from DOT personnel includes on-street parking, curbing, crosswalks and the intersection with Henry W. Dubois Drive. Zierler guided his board members to identifying issues that must be addressed regarding the parking and the traffic impacts of this mixed-use building.
Board member Rich Suoto said he’s concerned that there won’t be enough parking at the site, despite there being enough according to the zoning, which was written to encourage more pedestrian access rather than driving everywhere. Recognizing that human behavior is not likely to change simply to comply with the intent of the zoning, it’s been suggested that Moriello Park could be utilized for overflow parking. “Moriello’s not realistic,” Suoto said.
His opinion echoed that of resident Sue Winn, who scoffed at the idea that anyone would park their car a couple of blocks away. “It’s a long walk in winter, loaded down with groceries, and with no light” to cross North Chestnut, although automobile drivers are required to stop for people in crosswalks, including the one that presently connects the bus stop to the Stewart’s parking lot, which would be the likely route for anyone on foot between the two points.
The plans call for there being an additional crosswalk, but DOT staffers are concerned that this would be inconvenient to motorists. Zierler said he’d rather have the additional crossings because of the traffic-calming which would be instilled by their presence.
Parking along North Chestnut gets a thumbs-up from the Bicycle-Pedestrian Committee because those cars provide a buffer that makes walking feel much safer. From the DOT perspective, it increases the possibility that an inattentive driver will open a car door into an oncoming bicyclist. However, no DOT representative was present at the meeting to be asked if this is more likely than hitting a passing car with that same opened door.
Neighbors largely agree that there will be additional traffic on Mulberry Street, which is unacceptable. When Zero Place engineer Barry Medenbach remarked, “There’s not much traffic on Mulberry,” a widespread groan arose from the audience. Medenbach was trying to justify planned head-in parking on Mulberry, which Zierler — also a neighbor — thought would result in dangerous situations as drivers attempted to back out of the spots, even as pedestrians passed behind them. If spots on the street outside the building were protected by sidewalk bump-outs to rein in overly sharp cornering, it wouldn’t be DOT plows that remove the snow, either, meaning another solution would have to be reached for winter weather.
Developer David Shepler was skeptical that traffic on Mulberry would be as bad, or worse, than when a U-Haul truck rental service was on the site.
All told, there’s more parking on the site than is required under the code, but the NBR law doesn’t consider employee parking, nor does it indicate that different uses such as restaurants should have different parking requirements. Instead, each business use will be subject to a special use permit, which presumably wouldn’t be granted if board members found the parking to be lacking.
Cara Lee, another nearby resident, also expressed skepticism, but for her it was in the finding that there would be no traffic impacts resulting from Zero Place at all. Traffic volume “is not the only issue,” she said. On-street parking, delivery trucks and the proposed connection between Wallkill and Hudson valley rail trails led her to the conclusion that a traffic light would be required to make it all work safely. She did not suggest who might pay for it, but if state officials do not agree with that assessment, it would likely fall to the local municipality or the developer. Traffic lights can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to install. According to Medenbach, the traffic volume does not justify a light.
The question of the rail trail is the same one that is dogging the CVS project uptown. The exact route for the connector — which would finally link the immensely popular Walkway Over the Hudson to the bulk of Ulster County’s trails — has yet to be finalized, making planning for it difficult. What’s known is that the connection will diverge from Route 299 at North Putt Corners Road, and it’s likely to run along Henry W. Dubois Drive westward. It could cross North Chestnut there, but it also might end up on Church Street to cross the state road at Mulberry, but there’s presently no sidewalks there, and those would be needed to anchor any crosswalk.
While board members focused on issues of traffic and parking, neighbors weighing in during public comment did not. Issues raised included light pollution, the fire safety issues associated with solar panels and whether or not geothermal wells would intrude into the existing water table. Several people had problems with the rooftop area that’s intended to be accessible to residents, calling it variously a “leisure deck” and “party deck.” Anne Quinn had the most colorful opposition to that amenity, painting a picture of residents “drinking and using” on the roof while setting off fireworks and cooking over portable fire pits.
Only one person rose to speak in defense of the project: high school student Eli Duncan-Gilmour. He pointed out that the green goals of Zero Place — named for the stated intention of zero net energy usage — are entirely in line with the values of those who live in New Paltz. The 16-year-old told his neighbors, “We have to think long-term. Combating climate change is not easy, but there isn’t just another option. It’s not convenient, but necessary.” Duncan-Gilmour referred not only to the traffic study, but also the renderings created to represent visual impact, to back up his assertion that the impacts on neighbors to the west would be minimal. “The massive benefits [of this building] are not being weighed,” he said.
At the board’s first meeting in August, members will begin the process of completing the second part of the environmental assessment form, in which they draw their own conclusions about impacts.