For years now, Historic Huguenot Street (HHS) has been advocating traffic restriction measures along the part of that thoroughfare where the oldest and most fragile dwellings of New Paltz’s earliest European settlers once dwelt, citing cumulative damage caused to the structures by vibrations from passing vehicles. Various traffic studies conducted by the town and village over the years have concurred that routing vehicular movement around instead of through the most sensitive part of “America’s oldest street with its original houses” is a good idea. Now, it’s beginning to look like something will finally be done about it.
Last week, the chair of HHS’s board of directors, Mary Etta Schneider, and the organization’s interim executive director, Josephine Bloodgood, came before the New Paltz Village Board with a proposed site plan for partial closure and redesign of a section of Huguenot Street. “This is the first time we’re discussing it formally,” noted mayor Tim Rogers.
The schematic design prepared for HHS by Alfandre Architecture depicts a Huguenot Street that is significantly narrowed in the segment just north of its intersection with Broadhead Avenue, partially for traffic-calming purposes. Schneider pointed out that the “two houses in most danger” at present lie along this stretch, noting, “The Abe Hasbrouck House is so close to the road that the slope is forcing water into the basement.” Narrowing the pavement on the east side of the street at that point would enable reshaping of the contours of the verge in such a way that stormwater runoff could be diverted and drained away from the endangered stone structure.
From Broadhead southward to the intersection with North Front Street, about 500 feet of Huguenot Street would be completely closed off to regular vehicular traffic, according to the draft plan. The segment of Huguenot Street on which stand the Jean Hasbrouck and Deyo Houses and the Old Fort would become a walking path with gates at either end. “We’re looking to change this from a car-friendly street to a pedestrian-friendly surface,” Schneider explained. “I want to applaud this probable experiment with a permeable surface,” said village trustee Tom Rocco approvingly. “If it allows the kind of percolation into the subsoil that I expect, that would be a very happy outcome.”
According to the draft plan, the northerly gate will be located in front of the Bevier House, across from where the southerly exit from the Reformed Church parking lot now accesses Huguenot Street. Schneider reported that church representatives suggested moving that exit slightly northward, so that it empties directly into the intersection with Broadhead. A “future garden” is slated to surround the monument in the triangle now formed by North Front and the bend in Huguenot, and the boulders and concrete pillars that currently protect tourists from traffic in the middle of that intersection will be removed.
Mayor Rogers expressed discomfort with an interim scenario in which only a flimsy temporary gate would stand between pedestrians examining the monument and passing cars on the southerly section of Huguenot Street that will remain open, “until we have a historically accurate permanent gate.” Schneider suggested installation of wooden posts connected by chains, adding that a split-rail fence will eventually line the street as well. “The gates have to be easy to open at any time to accommodate emergency vehicles,” Rogers cautioned.
Trustee Don Kerr asked who would be responsible for snow removal along the section of the road that would be dedicated to pedestrian use, since heavy-duty Highway Department snowplows could no longer access it. “We would take care of it as if it were our property,” Schneider promised, speculating that HHS could use either a small pickup truck with a snowplow or even snowblowers to make the path passable.
“I’m curious if your long-term goal is to close the entire street to vehicular traffic,” Kerr prodded the HHS representatives. While acknowledging that total closure was a recommendation of some past traffic studies, “We’re not asking for that right now,” Schneider said. She noted that there are no occupied residences on the segment of Huguenot Street between North Front and Broadhead, but along other stretches, “More people would be impacted.”
“If there’s no other stakeholders, I see no reason to hold this up,” said trustee Dennis Young. According to the mayor, the next step in the process is to send the draft agreement and proposed site plan to the village attorney for review. “You wouldn’t have to come before this board every time you do an event that benefits this community,” Rogers added, shortly before the board voted unanimously to approve four events that HHS plans to hold this coming autumn.