It’s the biggest project to be considered by New Paltz Village Planning Board members in recent memory: Zero Place. Aspects of this proposed mixed-use building on the edge of the historic zoning district have gotten the attention of proponents and opponents alike. The promise of developer David Shepler is a structure that will produce more energy than is used and become the anchor of a walkable, modern business district in the village. The fears articulated by members of the Friends of New Paltz focus on the fact that it will be far taller than any off-campus building, with traffic and noise issues that will spill over into adjacent neighborhoods including Historic Huguenot Street, a gem in the community.
Accounts of the many planning board meetings at which this project has been discussed have not, in the view of some village residents, included a full and accurate depiction of the concerns raised about the project.
Developer Shepler and members of the Friends of New Paltz agreed to answer the same set of questions in the hope that all views would be fairly represented; those questions were provided to all parties on December 17.
Shepler responded to the following questions previously. The members of the Friends of New Paltz declined to respond at that time, however, this week, the Friends of New Paltz agreed to answer the same set of questions in the hope that all views would be fairly represented.
Who are Friends of New Paltz?
“Friends of New Paltz” is a group of village residents who support the concept of more mixed use, higher-density development along the Route 32 north corridor. We also believe this can be done while protecting the community’s unique resources nearby, including Historic Huguenot Street and the historic village center, the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, Moriello Park, the Millbrook Preserve, the Nyquist Harcourt Sanctuary and the future trail and bike connections slated for the area. We believe New Paltz can be a successful model of encouraging forward-looking development that also protects community assets — but getting there will require additional planning.
During the last year, the group has looked carefully at the Zero Place proposal. We have raised concerns about impacts from the Zero Place project on nearby residential neighborhoods, Historic Huguenot Street, the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail and to fulfilling New Paltz’s potential as a pedestrian and bike friendly community that will be a key linkage in the Empire State Trail System.
Zero Place has been a “test case” for the new Neighborhood Business Residential (NBR) district zoning, which replaced the Route 32 North “Gateway District” in 2015. The Zero Place review has revealed that the NBR zoning needs to be revised if our community is going to achieve the dual objective of encouraging development that harmonizes with the community’s unique assets that are critical to our local economy. There are good models for doing just that, but as written, the NBR zoning code falls far short.
Friends of New Paltz includes individuals who have served as volunteers on the village planning board, the bike/pedestrian committee, the village and town environmental commissions, New Paltz’s open space, historic preservation and comprehensive plan committees and the board of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. We have professional experience in planning and zoning, historic preservation and land conservation. We are not — as the developer has claimed — “people that first feared the development of the rail trail.” In fact, several of us were leaders in creating the rail trail and worked to make it a reality, just as we are working now to improve the NBR zoning and Zero Place to ensure that the benefits promised to the community are achieved.
NOTE: The new zoning applies to 43 acres in the village, between Broadhead Street and BOCES, between the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail on the west and the properties across Route 32.
A number of aspects of this project have raised concerns for community members. As the project stands right now, what are the three most problematic and why?
As it stands, Zero Place “maxes out” the limits of development allowable under the NBR zoning — on one of the smallest parcels of land in the NBR zone. This means that the scale and “intensity” of the project exceed the capacity of the lot and produce the following three inter-related impacts:
1) Spill-over parking — There isn’t enough room for parking for the intended number of people living, working or visiting the shops in the building. This comes from the fact that the NBR zoning requires only one space for each two-bedroom apartment and a half a parking space for each one-bedroom apartment, no matter how many people live in these units — a formula that was borrowed from cities where public transportation exists and people don’t need cars. This formula doesn’t translate well to a place like New Paltz where many of us must have a car to travel daily outside the village to earn a living. To meet even this, Zero Place is proposing parking on Mulberry Street and Route 32 to compensate for the lack of parking spaces on site — options which are not workable and will interfere with pedestrians and cyclists and traffic generally. Inadequate parking will result in frustrated occupants, guests, shoppers and diners relying on non-existent off-site parking and ending up in residential neighborhoods and other unauthorized parking places;
2) Size and Placement — The 2015 NBR zoning removed the design standards that previously existed for this zone, so there is no guidance on height (only an allowable of 50’ or four stories), placement or other design aspects. Shoehorned onto the site, the building will extend almost to the property lines on three sides, will loom over Mulberry Street, the rail trail and a gateway to Historic Huguenot Street. Due to space constraints, the project lacks buffers and landscaping required by the current zoning. The NBR zoning requires parking to be at the rear of the building. Zero Place does not meet this requirement.
3) Interference with pedestrian and cycle safety — A goal of the NBR zoning was to increase pedestrian and cycle use. As it stands, Zero Place intrudes onto both Mulberry Street and Route 32 with on-street parking and reduces the sidewalks currently in place, reducing safety for walkers and cyclists. Mulberry Street is identified in multiple studies as the public right of way that will provide the linkage for future walking and cycling trails envisioned by the county and state, bringing countless visitors through New Paltz. This access should not be sacrificed to serve one inadequately planned building.
What is one aspect about this project that residents of New Paltz fail to fully appreciate?
Zero Place sets the precedent for other development along Route 32, so what happens with this project is very important. Right now, the NBR zoning does not provide any design standards (these were removed in 2015), and requires the planning board to address all design issues — from size to window treatments — on a case-by-case basis, which creates an undue burden on the planning board and confusion for the developer. This leads to a contentious lengthy process, as we have witnessed, and we risk ending up with buildings that do not relate well to one another or the surrounding village. We support a moratorium on the NBR zone, so that the zoning can be refined and the broad ambiguity of the existing code can be replaced with a more “form-based” approach. To learn about form-based zoning, please see http://formbasedcodes.org/definition/. The Village of Highland has recently created form-based zoning to increase mixed use and higher density development to anticipate growth and accommodate pedestrian and cycle traffic.
Further, we are urging the village to evaluate the impacts of full build-out in the NBR zone to see what it will mean for water, sewer, community services and traffic. Surprisingly, this was not done prior to enacting the new NBR zoning. Simply not looking at these questions is not fair to village taxpayers, who will have to pay for any needed infrastructure improvements.
Zero Place is expected to actually produce more energy that its users consume. Should that matter to residents of New Paltz when considering the big picture of the project? Why or why not?
The Village of New Paltz should certainly encourage energy efficiency, energy conservation and renewable energy in new projects, although these are not currently required. Projects that produce energy for on-site use that can send excess energy to the grid and are becoming commonplace across New York State thanks to incentives for rooftop solar. For Zero Place, the developer asserts that it is necessary to build a larger building (i.e. four stories) to pay for the technology to achieve “net zero” energy. Actually, according to the New York State Solarize Program, two- or three-story buildings are the most compatible with rooftop solar, due to the ratio of floor space to rooftop space.
As it stands the project is only “Zero” Place in name. The ground floor retail is exempt from the “zero” formula and is likely to be the most energy consumptive part of the building. Further, Zero Place plans to bundle unlimited energy use in its rental fees to occupants, a marketing tactic which fails to encourage energy efficiency or conservation and contradicts sound energy use principles.