The New Paltz village planning board got a lesson in consistency while going through the potential environmental impacts of the proposed Zero Place development on Route 32 at its September 20 meeting. After drilling down line by line through the application’s environmental assessment form, board members were in agreement that this project may pose a moderate to significant impact to Historic Huguenot Street.
Because that’s not what they believed when they decided to classify it as an unlisted action under state environmental laws, however, reclassifying the action as type 1 would have a number of ramifications on how the process unfolds.
This adjustment happened during the second of what will likely be three meetings being taken to review part 2 of the state-mandated environmental assessment form, or EAF. The questions in this part are used to determine the level of a variety of impacts. Those judged to be moderate or severe are then reviewed more closely in the third part of the form, at which time a determination of significance is made about the overall project.
When board members looked at questions around nearby historic and archaeological resources, they all felt that the project was close enough to Historic Huguenot Street, only 377 feet distant from the southwest corner, to have an impact. Board attorney Richard Golden warned the board that their conclusion might be construed as inconsistent with their classifying Zero Place as “unlisted,” a category which requires a full EAF but does not presume that it will lead to the creation of an in-depth environmental impact statement. Acknowledging that the State Environmental Quality Review act (SEQRA) and the hundreds of pages of guidance written on its use can be difficult to interpret, he said that if board members found its location to be “substantially contiguous,” revisiting the type of category may be in order.
Zero Place attorney Michael Moriello said that he did not believe this project qualified as type 1 “under any circumstances.” Chairman Michael Zierler said that the question of type would be taken up at a later meeting.
Visual impact and traffic were other areas for which board members agreed there would be at least a moderate impact. More than 100 additional peak-hour trips is all that it takes to be deemed an impact, and the traffic study bears out that this level is expected. On the other hand, according to the applicant’s traffic engineer, Phillip Grealy, the engineering supports a capacity for “a lot more traffic on Mulberry Street” than is presently the case. It’s not unusual to wait for an opening to turn left off Mulberry now, he said.
The exact nature of the first-floor tenants will have an impact on the traffic, board member Richard Suoto noted. Each of those tenants will be subject to a hearing to obtain a special-use permit, which will give board members an opportunity to review traffic impacts again. The fact that there is a plan to put some head-in parking spots on Mulberry is another red flag, which Zierler has raised as a concern more than once. He did so again at this meeting.
As has been the case since this project was first proposed, the public-comment portion of the meeting was dominated by talk of Zero Place. Those in favor of the net-zero-energy building and those opposed almost always show up and different meetings, as though an occult hand were segregating the speakers by viewpoint. This time, it was largely members of the Friends of New Paltz who laid out a case against building four stories at that location. Many of those concerns are an indictment of the NBR zone itself, which is intended to increase density such that pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly infrastructure is more feasible.
Members of the group also submitted a 54-page document laying out their opposition in legal language.