Since 1987, the idea of creating a neighborhood mixed-use residential/business district has been a topic of study and discussion among elected and appointed officials and members of the New Paltz community. Finally, in 2015 such a district became a reality when the Village of New Paltz created the Neighborhood Business Residential (NBR) District for an area along North Chestnut Street (Route 32 North) to the east and the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail to the west, encompassing approximately 27 of the 1,000 acres (or about 3%) of the total village footprint.
In 1987, sustainable land use planning expert Randall Arendt spoke in the Village Hall about modern planning concepts which embraced the principles of walkable, socially vibrant, safe neighborhoods where local residents could shop and eat without the need for a car. Such neighborhoods would be environmentally friendly and energy efficient by “building up” rather than “building out,” thus limiting the sprawl which has eaten up much of the farmland in the mid-Hudson and other areas of the country.
The type of development Arendt was talking about encourages the construction of buildings with business space on the ground floor and residential apartments above, in areas with a density of population sufficient to support the businesses. The idea of keeping buildings close to the road with parking in the rear supports the creation of a visual landscape that is pleasing to the eye and maintains a “Main Street USA” look and feel that was largely lost following the end of World War II when the automobile and strip malls changed the face of much of America.
Several years ago, I was fortunate to be chosen to attend the nationally acclaimed four-day intensive Land Use Leadership Alliance program offered by Pace University Law School. Several hours were devoted to the merits of precisely the type of mixed-use residential/commercial zoning that have been studied at length by three separate Village of New Paltz administrations and now finally adopted into law. You can learn more about the details of this type of zoning by visiting the Pace University Law School website (https://www.law.pace.edu/land-use-leadership-alliance-training-program) and the Main Street America site at (https://www.preservationnation.org/main-street/).
Zoning represents a welcome mat for investment and growth
The Pace University training emphasized that a community’s zoning laws — when well thought out and designed in conformance with comprehensive planning — function as a welcome mat, inviting investors to purchase land and design and build structures that conform to the zoning code. Downtown areas need private investment funds and the tax receipts from privately owned commercial properties to offset the tax burden on homeowners.
In 2008, the Town of New Paltz government acknowledged the appropriateness of the precise type of zoning that the village has now enacted when it supported the creation of a Planned Unit Development project permitting mixed-use commercial/residential development on 57 acres of town lands near the entrance to the New York State Thruway, the same site now under consideration for the Wildberry Lodge project. The economic downturn that year sank the Crossroads project planned for that location, which may actually have benefited the village in the long run since the 103,340 square feet of retail/office space and 250 residential apartments proposed for Crossroads might have threatened the village downtown area.
The welcome mat has worked
The village now has an opportunity to consider the Zero Place application for its NBR District. It includes 14,450 square feet of retail space and 48 one- and two-bedroom residential apartments on 1.45 acres along Route 32 North, across the street from the Stewart’s shop. The village Planning Board has embarked on the process of evaluating the application by establishing itself as lead agency for the State Environmental Quality Review.
As with any high visibility land-use project, a healthy discussion is already underway in the community. Letters, both supportive and critical, have already begun to appear in this paper. There will be many opportunities to be heard. The Planning Board will provide for public hearings where all public comments will be recorded, and time for public comment is also available at regular Planning Board meetings.
For those critical of specific components of the NBR zoning code, however, please keep in mind that the law which passed on October 28, 2015 by a unanimous vote of the Village Board and was enacted after hundreds of hours of deliberation by members of the village government, expert consultants and involved citizens. As newspaper accounts, videotapes and minutes of meetings demonstrate, very careful consideration was given to the ways in which the various residential, business and proposed mixed-use zones would relate to one another and to design standards for such components as building height, building setback and parking formulas. The findings are summarized in the Village Density Control Schedule available for viewing at the Village Code link on the village’s website (https://ecode360.com/7239315). If you disagree with any of these components, your argument is not with the Zero Place applicant, whose building conforms in every aspect with the requirements of the NBR District, but with the underlying code which makes these requirements law.
Some claim they didn’t realize the new zoning law was being considered, despite the fact that three different village administrations, beginning in 2004, held dozens of meetings and funded an analysis in 2007 by a respected outside planning consultant, which included a survey and public workshop. These extensive deliberations and study resulted in the recommendations that are now largely embedded in the details of the NBR zoning code.
On July 14, 2005, an article entitled “Over the hurdle — New Paltz Village Board eases mixed-use applications” appeared in the New Paltz Times, which quoted the former village Planning Board chair, the late George Danskin, as saying: “There is nothing ‘unique’ or ‘unusual’ about a residential apartment being located on the second floor of a business. We have hundreds of them in the village.” It went on to include the following question from former Village Board member and current Planning Board chair Michael Zierler, “What can we do to make affordable housing or mixed commercial/residential developments more attractive to property owners and developers?”
Similarly, on December 15, 2005, the New Paltz Times, in an article entitled “Another hamlet? Village considers rezoning for Route 32 North,” former Mayor Jason West stated that “Having another Hamlet in that area (the current NBR zone) could reduce traffic congestion along Main Street. There are so many residential roads that lead onto Route 32 North — Sunset Ridge, Bonticou Drive, Hummel Road…what if all those residents could just walk or drive along Route 32 and get their videos, go to a restaurant, do their grocery shopping? That would save a lot of car trips into the heart of the village.”
The Poughkeepsie Journal reported in a September 29, 2006 article, “New Paltz taking steps for Route 32 apartments — mixed-use district is envisioned,” that “The Village Board Wednesday approved spending up to $10,500 to advance its goal to create a densely populated, mixed-use area along the northern portion of Route 32.”
In 2007, the village published and made available to the public on its website a summary of its work to date entitled “B-3 District Zoning Recommendations.”
In its September 3, 2015 edition, the New Paltz Times reported in an article, “Zoning changes for North Chestnut corridor,” that “A public hearing is scheduled for September 16 on revisions to the zoning code along the North Chestnut corridor in New Paltz now called the Neighborhood Business Residential district.”
On September 28, 2015, the following public notice appeared on the village’s website and in local newspapers: “Village of New Paltz — Notice of Special Meeting. Please take notice that a Special Meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Village of New Paltz will take place on October 8, 2015…the purpose of the meeting is to discuss the proposed Neighborhood Business Residential Mixed Use Zoning text and district footprint…”.
Some may have missed these articles and notices, but the Zero Place applicant did not. The applicant saw the village’s welcome mat and accepted the invitation. The time to discuss the concerns now being raised about the Density Control Schedule was when the law was being formulated, not after it has been enacted. For the Planning Board to decide that this particular building is too high, for example, and to make a ruling to that effect, would require probative, legally valid arguments since NBR zoning permits four-story buildings: New Paltz Times, November 5, 2015, in an article entitled “Work where you live”: “The North Chestnut Street Gateway District is dead; long live the Neighborhood Business Residential Mixed-Use District (NBR)…the most significant distinction between the old Gateway District and the new NBR is a requirement that all newly constructed buildings be mixed-use and range from two to four stories in height.”
While applicants are indeed required to defend their projects, no applicant is required to defend the underlying zoning law which governs their application. The members of the Planning Board must deal with the village zoning code as it is, not as some would like it to be. As a close observer of the deliberations of its members, I have every confidence that the board will base its decisions regarding the Zero Place application on facts of law and not on unsubstantiated emotional appeals.