New Paltz Planning Board say new senior housing project is too big

lauren thomas
The Ferris Woods proposal in New Paltz is for 60 two-bedroom senior citizen apartments built on 43 acres that would be accessed from the end of Brouck Ferris Boulevard. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

The Ferris Woods proposal  in New Paltz is for 60 two-bedroom senior citizen apartments built on 43 acres that would be accessed from the end of Brouck Ferris Boulevard, with an emergency access route running from the back of the nearby car wash on Route 299.

During last week’s public hearing for the project, New Paltz Town Planning Board members heard from Brouck Ferris Boulevard neighbors who were skeptical about the traffic projections for the project, which in their minds are based on an assumption that senior citizens don’t drive. Chris Ransom noted that she would be eligible to live in the proposed complex, but expects that she will be driving even more frequently once she is no longer working. “My retirement wish-list is quite extensive,” she said. Once people do stop driving, on the other hand, their traffic impact does not abate. They ask for rides, and they receive visits from friends, family members,and home health aides.

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Bob Hughes continued to focus his comments on the environmental impacts to the Plutarch wetlands, which among other things is a home to the northern cricket frog. Fragmentation of habitat, he said, is always bad for whatever inhabits it.

Engineer Pete Setaro began this phase of the review by telling board members that a new submission won’t be possible until they provide feedback on the proposed well locations, both of which are in the town-mandated wetlands buffer.

Board co-chair Adele Ruger, however, was more interested in the site access. With neighbors up in arms over their dead-end street becoming a throughway for residents of 60 apartments, she’d been hopeful that a main entrance on Route 299 might be possible. Going through the car wash parking lot was not in the cards, however, because that business’ owner was concerned about the traffic interfering with drivers queuing up for a wash.

Other options, such as making the access road wider to accommodate that concern or building a bridge over the sensitive area, were rejected by the applicant’s engineers as too expensive.

Setaro tried to push for the town’s traffic engineer to work directly with the Maser firm which created this analysis. As those findings were “based on published numbers,” he appeared to believe board members would agree with whatever their consultants told them, but he didn’t get a response to the suggestion right away. If the questions he received were any indication, the time for automatic deference may be past.

Planning board member Amanda Gotto wanted to know about guest parking; Setaro said that the plan complied with town code. That wasn’t enough for board member Lyle Nolan, who said that more was “absolutely” needed because the minimum is “not realistic in the modern world.”

There was also questions about the “senior” designation, and how it would be enforced. There is no town code, and such rules would be based on state requirements instead.

Having the primary access for this B2-zoned developed through an A1.5 zone was another gray area. Setaro didn’t find anything in the town code to preclude it, but board attorney George Lithco thought it might need a difficult-to-obtain use variance to comply. It was agreed that Stacy Delarede, one of the two town building inspectors equally qualified to do so, would need to make an official determination on that count.

Co-chair Lagusta Yearwood said that she’s not sure why the project is even being seriously reviewed, as it is too big for the space, as evidenced by the well locations. Why are we accepting the lesser of two evils?” she asked. “Conform to our law.”

Engineer Carol Matt explained that they’d had several meetings with the town wetlands inspector prior to submitting this application, but she was told in no uncertain terms that board members, not the wetlands inspector, make the decisions. Alternate well locations are “not possible,” Matt said; Setaro later clarified by explaining that the client felt they were where water was most likely to be discovered, adjacent to the wetland.

“I don’t have any sympathy” for the applicant, said Nolan, because six months was spent gathering data and making plans without actually consulting board members.

Much information is still needed, Ruger pointed out, including clarifications about the wetlands inspection, a building inspector’s determination and additional comments from members of the environmental conservation commission. For that reason, Ruger recommended that no consultation among traffic engineers take place until all the other data are available.

The public hearing on Ferris Woods will continue on March 13.

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