Zero Place is a four-story mixed-use development proposed for Rt. 32N in the village of New Paltz. Read past coverage.
My problems with Zero Place
Zero Place’s excessive height and density are completely alien to the Village of New Paltz’s small-town atmosphere, cherished by both residents and visitors. Proposed at four stories and at 44’8” in height with 15 feet of roof structures, this construction would tower over the buildings in the surrounding districts with a 30-foot height limit. Even the downtown business core limits structures to 35 feet.
The new NBR zone ignored the village’s own commissioned study of Route 32 North done in 2007 by Behan Associates, that recommended against four stories. Behan proposed three stories with a 40-foot limit, to accommodate peaked roof-lines that vary building facades.
The NBR zone has no design standards to guide potential developers. Contrast this with the detailed gateway design standards adopted into the zoning code in 1997.
The Village of New Paltz’s gateway zoning district won the New York Conference of Mayors Main Street Award in 1999 based on five criteria: public entity-private sector cooperation, active citizen-merchant participation, economic benefit to the community, promotion and design. Because of that zoning, the Water Street Market architecture is thoughtfully designed with the contours, at the correct height and scale for the site, with muted colors and two stories (below the height limit of 35 feet). And the developer provided us with public toilets! Water Street Market is now a vibrant hub for the village’s western entrance. Why should North Chestnut/Route 32N be an ugly step-sister gateway?
The developer presents Zero Place as using “innovative” mixed-use concepts and calling it “zero energy.” This is simply greenwashing, attempting to show environmental benefits while actually adversely impacting New Paltz’s unique Historic Huguenot Street, the Wallkill Valley rail trail and nearby Nyquist-Harcourt Wildlife Sanctuary, Moriello Park and Mill Brook Preserve.
It’s not clear how this “zero-energy” magic works or how it is calculated. By providing free electricity for the tenants, there would be no reason for them to turn off widescreen TVs or lights. The huge building would light up the night like a beacon. The traffic impacts and effect on parking are substantial. Parking spaces on Mulberry Street and heavy traffic threaten the key link in the regional bikeway planned connection with the rail trail.
This project is incompatible with at least five of the nine goals in the village’s comprehensive plan, the legal basis for planning and zoning. These goals strive to “Protect the Village’s important historic sites … and promote tourism based on its nationally recognized importance,” “Protect and enhance the drawing power of the Village’s commercial and historic areas,” “Protect the natural environment by linking zoning regulations to site capability,” “Ease traffic congestion … without spoiling physical and visual amenities,” and “Preserve the quality of existing neighborhoods and their natural environment.”
As the guardians of our community, it is hoped the village boards will follow the comprehensive plan and support “high standards for all development by permitting and promoting growth that is consistent with the Village’s land suitability and capability and its existing community character.”
Jo Margaret Mano
Zero Place discussion dismaying
I lived in New Paltz for many years and raised two children here. After I divorced, I found it difficult to find reasonable housing and moved to Gardiner, where I remain today. When my friend David Shepler told me that he was pursuing the Zero Place project, bringing new living options with a commitment to low environmental impact, I was super-excited. But as I’ve watched the ongoing approval process and public discussion on Zero Place, I’ve found myself dismayed by what appears to be a drift away from common sense and reasonability.
The so-called Friends of New Paltz is trying very hard to tie Zero Place to the historical district on Huguenot Street and to argue that Zero Place defies “community character.” For me, this begs the question. Who gets to define New Paltz’s “community character”?
If it’s our elected officials, then they have clearly spoken. They passed the new NBR zoning that establishes the density goals of the 32N corridor and encourages buildings exactly like this.
Remember, unlike most developers, Zero Place has committed to not asking for a single variance. The developers have simply designed a building using the code as their guide. In fact, after public comment, they lowered the physical height of the building by five feet in response to community concern: something they were not required to do by zoning.
Is it the residents of Huguenot Street who get to define “community character” on behalf of all of us? I certainly hope not. As longtime community member Lee Reich pointed out a couple of weeks ago in his public comments, it was many of those same neighbors who resisted the creation of the rail trail, decrying how it would “change the character of New Paltz forever.” They were right. It did change the character of New Paltz. It made it better. And so will Zero Place.
Why are we even talking about the historical district in this conversation? If you look at the developers’ renderings on their website (www.zeroplace.com), Zero Place cannot be seen from any of the historical homes and is barely visible from anywhere on Huguenot Street. Are we really to believe that somehow people entering New Paltz will feel negatively about Huguenot Street because they drive by Zero Place on their way? Please don’t allow them to use our precious historical resources to impede the kind of development that we should be applauding. That is selfish, shortsighted and wrong.
Also, you must not forget the many members of the community who have voiced their support for this building and for the vision of a new 32N corridor with greater density, bike- and pedestrian-friendly amenities, and a commitment to sustainability. A hundred of our community members signed the Zero Place vision letter sent to the board and published in the paper (only 90 had signed at the time of publication but ten more later signed). This is in contrast to only 33 people who signed the Friends’ letter, almost all of whom live on or near Huguenot Street. The fact that they show up to nearly every board meeting does not mean that they should disproportionately influence how we define “community character.” I, for one, completely reject their attempt to maintain zoning of a haphazard, automobile-focused corridor that certainly does nothing to enhance nearby resources.
Quite the contrary.
I ask this planning board to be fair to our entire community and not allow the Friends of New Paltz and their lawyers have an outsized influence.