Three members of the New Paltz town board are sufficiently open to considering a moratorium for the gateway area near the Thruway to set a public hearing on it for October 20. The other two aren’t.
The three-to-two vote last week came after a tense discussion in which one councilperson questioned whether one of his colleagues had sufficient knowledge to champion the moratorium cause.
The notion of putting in place a moratorium in order to write new zoning regulations for the area along Route 299 from Ohioville Road to ShopRite was proposed in the wake of the public hearing on the CVS project being closed by the town planning board some months ago. Council member Jeff Logan believes that, despite claims to the contrary, the moratorium proposal was intended to target that particular parcel and stop the project from being approved. He questioned council member Julie Seyfert-Lillis quite aggressively about her knowledge of zoning in the town.
“Is B-2 [zoning] the important piece?” he asked. “What about the eight other gateways into town? What is the development pressure? What is allowed in the B-2 that you don’t like?” Logan insisted whenever he was interrupted that he wanted Seyfert-Lillis specifically to answer his questions, which included asking her how many B-2 zones there were in the town, and the amount of the town’s 2016 budget.
Interruptions were part of what passed for a discussion on the topic, with the frequency of board members talking over one threatening to rival meetings during the latter days of the Susan Zimet administration. Logan would raise questions even as Seyfert-Lillis attempted to answer them, while at the same time Marty Irwin tried to raise questions of his own, and while Daniel Torres attempted to draw attention to Seyfert-Lillis’ answers.
Supervisor Neil Bettez tried to put a stop to it. “I won’t allow attacks on other board members,” he told Logan.
“I’m asking Julie what she thinks,” Logan responded. “Should we ask the planning board to hold up all applications as we do this?”
He followed up with another question. “Why don’t we just write the zoning?” The response he might have been looking for was that a moratorium would halt the CVS application in its tracks, while the project might otherwise be completed during that rewriting process. Moratoria are in fact sometimes used to prevent a rush to develop under existing rules while new laws are being written.
Development pressure is clear
Bettez said that the development pressure for that particular area was clear, citing the nearly constructed Hampton Inn along with the CVS and Wildberry Lodge projects, plus interest in redeveloping the site of the former 87 Motel as an apartment complex.
“The die is cast,” Bettez told Logan. Only by bringing the process to a full stop could the cycle of fighting over every development be broken. Rewriting the zoning to fit what residents want to see, he said, would result in projects being completed “faster and cheaper” because there wouldn’t be as much local resistance every time.
Logan thought the Hampton Inn was a poor example, because the design is receiving high marks now that the building is going up. Approved four years ago, it was held up by litigation. While Bettez said there were perhaps half a dozen projects in the mix, the only one under current review is CVS and Five Guys Burgers and Fries.
After the meeting, Logan went further, saying, “Make no mistake about it, this is a ‘Stop CVS moratorium’,” he wrote via email. “None of the board members there could articulate why we need the zoning and what it is they don’t like about the current zoning.”
While attorney George Rodenhausen has advised that such a moratorium would be defensible against an Article 78 petition, Logan further believes that the landowner could sue because it appears to him that it would target the CVS project. “The landowner and developer are looking to develop land ‘as of right’,” he argued. “If we deny the landowner the right to develop, then we have taken away their civil rights of developing the land.” The town’s insurance policy, he said, does not cover civil-rights violations.
When a legal professional tells you they ‘don’t think’ you have an exposure, Logan continued, “be careful if they are the ones who will be representing you when you get sued.” He is confident such a suit will come because “the moratorium will burden only one of the over 4000 tax parcels in town.”
Those at the table took exception to Logan’s tone and approach, which consisted largely of peppering Seyfert-Lillis with questions and then answering them himself. Seyfert-Lillis bristled at the treatment, wondering aloud whether Logan was questioning her dedication. Logan instead questioned her level of knowledge in light of “taking off for the summer” and missing several meetings.
Marty Irwin joined Logan in probing the cost of the proposed moratorium and the new rezoning process that would be required. Supervisor Bettez is warning that the next budget may be dire, and Irwin and Logan wanted to be certain there was money to pay for the entire process. They wanted to factor in the cost of writing and passing the moratorium and zoning, as well as funds to defend against a potential lawsuit. Irwin raised the spectre of multiple suits draining the town government’s contingency fund.
Their colleagues repeatedly said that setting a public hearing was not the same as actually passing a moratorium. Members of the public may have information useful for making that decision. As for the money, some of it would have to be budgeted for 2017, since the proposed length of the moratorium was nine months.
Moratorium supporters speak
Several members of the public, all of whom spoke before sparks began to fly at the town-board table, were in favor of passing this moratorium. David Porter said that the traffic study done for CVS, presented as a cumulative analysis of the many projects now in the pipeline, represented “a de facto gateway analysis,” though one that was “sloppy” rather than a “truly independent analysis of the gateway area.”
Former planning board chairman Bob Hughes said that the area being defined as the gateway was being “swamped with proposals.” Joel Oppenheimer told board members that the new rules should keep in mind the pedestrian and bicycle linkage which will pass through the proposed zone, as well as design standards to ensure that this particular gateway created “a lasting impression” to visitors. Due to its proximity to the Thruway, Oppenheimer may have been assuming that most newcomers arrive in New Paltz from the east.
When the dust settled, Logan and Irwin were in the minority. That members of the public may indeed bring forth valuable new information on October 20 may vindicate the majority. But the whole process may be leading to an inevitable lawsuit anyway.