Despite the fact that a public hearing has yet to be scheduled, village residents have been taking advantage of their planning board’s public comment period to share their views on Zero Place for months. In most cases, there has been a strong showing of people venting their worries and concerns about planned four-story building adjacent to the historic zone, but on Sept. 6 it was fans, admirers, and erstwhile residents of the project who came out in force.
Cooper Street resident Jacob Lawrence said he was “extremely happy with details of Zero Place,” particularly how it makes the village more walkable for those who live in its northern reaches. His father, Bill Busby, told board members that after 50 years in Dutchess County, he and his wife would like to move closer to their son. While Woodland Pond is ideal for those senior citizens who see advantages in living among their cohort, Busby said that he prefers the intergenerational diversity offered by living in this zero-net-energy, mixed-use building. Both men touched upon how responsive developer David Shepler has been to concerns raised in the past.
Mark Portier used to own a home in the village, and hopes that he can return by becoming a Zero Place resident. He downplayed concerns that density brings trouble, saying, “I’m representative of the kind of person who wants to live there.”
Christine Marmo demonstrated her acumen for local affairs by point out that the NBR zone which makes Zero Place a possibility has been “in the making for the last decade,” and she applauded the “invited streetscape” laid out in these particular plans. “We need more housing options,” she said, and added that she believes community character will be enhanced by Zero Place.
Reaching back still further into local history, Lee Reich recalled being one of the people who worked to bring the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail to fruition. Opposition to the trail, he said, was based on concerns over increased crime and noise. “I’m glad the naysayers did not have their way,” he said, and he hoped the same would be true of Zero Place. He observed that the North Chestnut corridor is “as industrial as any part of New Paltz can get,” and that Zero Place would both improve that image and contribute toward the effort to stem global warming by reducing the need on fossil fuels. The building will use alternative energy sources, including solar that will be collected by panels covering the roof and south side.
One broad generalization that can be made about people who have spoken out about this project is that people who support it tend to live farther away than those who are opposed or would like to see significant changes. That’s true of Deborah Goldman, a resident of Springtown Road who said she was “impressed by the project when I first read about it,” as most developers build “energy-guzzling” buildings that are positioned to get the best views of the ridge. She recognized that it is through increased density in the village that open spaces can be preserved; that’s a central concept underlying the NBR zone.
That was a theme also touched upon by Neil Bettez, who did not introduce himself as town supervisor or in any way suggest his comments were official. Thinking of the town as a whole, he said, a building like Zero Place – which he asserted would have the same impact on the tax base as a dozen single-family homes – makes it possible to preserve land in other areas of the town.
When planning board members delved into the project, it was to begin the methodical process of identifying which issues are expected to generate a moderate to large impact according to the standards established under the State Environmental Quality Review act, or SEQR. A similar process is unfolding at town planning board meetings in regard to the CVS project, but the timing is quite different. Whereas village planning board attorney Richard Golden recommends determining a project’s environmental significance as early as possible in the process, the longstanding practice for town planning board members is to hold off on that decision until the last possible moment. The difference will be most evident in the fact that, when a public hearing is scheduled, residents will already know if board members feel there are environmental issues yet to be addressed, and will have the opportunity to support those findings or try to change members’ minds.
Areas for which a majority of members agreed that impacts would be at least moderate included land use, surface water and aesthetic resources, but they took enough time discussing each item from part 2 of the environmental assessment form that only half the questions were covered. For those areas – and any others, including traffic and community character, which are considered to have a moderate or large impact – board members will complete the third part of the EAF, creating a narrative of the impacts and those mitigation measures which are proposed to address them. Once that step is complete, board members will vote on whether to declare the project as having a significant environmental impact, or not. A positive declaration would lead to the creation of an environmental impact statement in which the findings of additional studies are reviewed, with the limits of the EIS being determined through one or more public scoping sessions. A negative declaration would clear the way for board members to complete the site plan review and decide on approving the project without an EIS. At any point prior to approval, according to Golden, board members can change their opinions based on new information that they receive.
Board member Rich Steffens, recognizing that the aesthetics will be one of the issues of concern among some members of the public, pointed out that Zero Place won’t look like the stone houses of Historic Huguenot Street, but would comply with the zoning in place. “We don’t have design standards,” he reminded board members. Developing such standards was an area that the late Maurice Weitman did focus on as planning board chairman prior to his death, but no recommendations were ever passed on to village board members for consideration. “It’s blocking my view of a lawnmower repair shop,” Steffens said of the project.