New Paltz Village Planning Board members finalized their scope of concerns about Zero Place at their January 3 meeting, despite ongoing concerns by some residents that the process being followed is a flawed one. The Zero Place proposal is for a mixed-use building to be constructed on the empty lot at the corner of Mulberry and North Chestnut streets. It would include 48 apartments over a floor of retail space; the entire structure is intended to be net-zero in regard to energy usage, hence the name.
Board members have opted to follow a loosely-defined process called “expanded EAF,” under which all areas of environmental concern are paired with mitigation measures prior to voting on how significant those impacts might be; if those measures are deemed sufficient, presumably a lengthy and costly environmental impact statement won’t be required. Board chairman Michael Zierler decided to use the more familiar construct of a scoping statement to guide those discussions, and now that scope is in the hands of developer David Shepler and his consultants.
Cara Lee reminded board members that the Friends of New Paltz have collectively and repeatedly expressed concerns about the expanded EAF process as an effective means to achieve mitigation of the various environmental issues around Zero Place, but added that they appreciated the efforts that have been made revising the draft scope. She implored board members to ensure that aspects such as the height and mass of the building be considered in the “context of the setting,” adjacent to a quiet neighborhood and only a short distance from Historic Huguenot Street.
Jo Mano again expressed that the expanded EAF process was “justified by an irrelevant legal argument,” and opined that given its height and mass, Zero Place is a “cityscape building more appropriate for Broadway in Newburgh.”
One area of contention for the Zero Place project is the zoning, and the plan’s compliance with it. Many neighbors were shocked at the height limit of the NBR (neighborhood-business-residential) zone once this first project was proposed, but compliance with those zoning rules is something Shepler points out whenever the opportunity arises. Brad Barclay remains unconvinced that that’s the case, and said so during public comment. Lacking a final plan, he said, it’s not at all clear that Zero Place will conform to all the rules.
Members of the Friends of New Paltz also have weighed in repeatedly to say that over and above questions about Zero Place complying with zoning, it certainly doesn’t comply with existing land-use plans, including the village comprehensive plan. However, board attorney Richard Golden disagrees on that point, and again told members that he feels the project does comply with all the relevant plans. Golden’s rationale is that the NBR zone is in keeping with the comprehensive plan by virtue of being adopted by village trustees; planning board members cannot change zoning, and must assume that all approved zoning is in compliance.
Friends of New Paltz members have additionally asked current village board members to review NBR zoning, and a committee was formed to make recommendations for changes after the study. Mano volunteered for it and, if the mayor has his way, will serve as that group’s chair.
Barclay also expressed a lack of confidence in using a technological solution, such as a smart phone app, to manage parking demand. Those are generally applied throughout an entire zone, he said, not just for a single site. His alternative is to forbid any car parking to residents of the single-bedroom apartments, and do so in the leases themselves.
“Parking is not a public good,” observed Michael Reade, because one person parking a vehicle in a given spot infringes on the ability of anyone else to do the same. He contrasted that with sidewalks, the use of which does not prevent others from also walking along them. “You may be asked to give up public good for private benefit,” he said.
The boots don’t fit, according to an anecdote shared by Tom Nyquist. He recalled inheriting a pair from his father, and how he was unable to wear them because they were simply too small, despite the quality and subjective value of them. Zero Place is too large for the site, just as Nyquist’s feet were too large for his father’s boots.
Scope in hand, Shepler and his team are now tasked with addressing each and every concern. The lack of firm guidelines which worry the Friends of New Paltz provide the developer with little protection either; should planning board members decide their responses fall short, they could order an EIS regardless.