New Paltz CVS vote to come soon, probably

(Photo by Lauren Thomas)

New Paltz Residents continue to lobby for a full environmental impact statement, or EIS, to be required of applicant Trans-Hudson Management. The so-called CVS proposal calls for the titular drug store, as well as a Five Guys Burgers and Fries, to be placed on the 5.6-acre parcel bounded by the Thruway, Route 299, and North Putt Corners Road, with a third potential pad site to be developed at a later date. Those asking for additional study included members of the community group Sustainable Exit Eighteen Development, or SEED. Kevin Borden likened the project to a “muddy, smelly shirt” that board members “just need to put through the rinse cycle” of closer study. Bob Hughes opined that the wetlands inspection was insufficient regarding a potential vernal pool, and encouraged more study specifically on that question. Environmental conservation board member Laura Deney reiterated that group’s preference for an EIS.

New Paltz town Planning Board members learned about what transpired at a long-sought meeting with state transportation officials. The Putt Corners Road intersection with Route 299 is already prone to backing up and the scene of accidents, and the CVS project is not the only planned change. The village’s primary firehouse could be just a block away as early as 2018, and planned trail connections between New Paltz and Lloyd may well host the governor’s planned Empire State Trail as well. A number of stakeholders met on January 4 to hash out the various issues, including the aforementioned DOT officials, public works and highway officials from county and town, fire and police chiefs, innumerable consultants and planning board members from village town, and county. To avoid noticing it as a public meeting — apparently a requirement to get DOT officials to the table — only Mike Calimano and Tom Powers represented the town planning board.

According to Calimano, topics discussed included technology to allow drivers of emergency vehicles to override the Main Street traffic light. Synchronization of the lights would be restored in time through the controlling software. He also noted that the biggest disruption to motorized traffic are pedestrian walk signals farther down the road, suggesting that the concept of “complete streets” is only given lip service in some quarters.

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Among the traffic concerns are those related to construction itself. A considerable amount of fill — 900 large truckloads, down from 1,600 in the original proposal — will be hauled in under the current proposal, and the route and schedule must be agreed upon if the permit to do that massive amount of clearing and grading is approved. The specifics could be enshrined in a developer’s agreement, according to planning board attorney George Lithco, compliance with which itself could be a condition of site plan approval. The agreement, which could include details about the quality and source of the fill and any number of other minutiae to ensure that the letter and spirit of the site plan are followed, would need approval by town board members.

“Why do we need to lift the level?” asked planning board co-chair Adele Ruger, and allow the lot-wide clear-cutting of second-growth forest that the filling would entail.

“You can’t build around every tree,” said Lyle Nolan in reply.

All in all, co-chair Lagusta Yearwood thought that the language used to describe the likely impacts still minimizes those. “We should be asking for alternatives, not accepting their plan,” she said. An exploration of alternatives is required in an EIS, but not otherwise, and Yearwood believes that some impacts of the project simply cannot be mitigated, such as the tree removal. That’s why she’s looking for alternatives.

Before there was a clearing and grading law, board members were told, developers would level the lot before submitting an application to save time. The intent of the law was to make sure planning board members had oversight on that portion of the project.

From the standpoint of the thresholds laid out in the State Environmental Quality Review act, or SEQR, many of the impacts that alarm some residents and board members aren’t a blip on the radar. Those levels seem to be intended for much larger projects than could likely ever be built in New Paltz. Additionally, board engineer David Clouser noted that this project is actually “undersized in that zone,” and based on the code, “fits in that zone.”

Board members also wrestled with questions of water. According to remarks made by applicant attorney Charles Bazydlo at past meetings, a municipal water hookup would be gladly accepted if one were available. The plans right now include drilled wells, but it’s unknown what quality water might be available. Plans to tap into the aquifer under the proposed Wildberry Lodge — less than a mile away — for municipal water were scrapped once it was realized how salty that source actually was. If a request is made to the town for municipal water, the district expansion would also require approval through the village, which controls the system. However, well permits are approved through the county health department, meaning that the question is not likely to be answered during the planning process.

Aesthetically, this project is expected to have a greater visual impact than other proposals in the so-called gateway. It will be closer to both Route 299 and the Thruway than the recently-completed Hampton Inn, or the medical center. When present at other meetings, the applicant’s consultants have argued that this is a relatively minor issue of architectural details, but some board members have considered it a priority. Another area of disagreement is whether or not this project is consistent with existing community plans, or rather, what that means. The last time that a new master plan was adopted for the town was before the turn of the century, and its relevance to current community preferences has been questioned.

Ruger was reluctant to vote on environmental significance with even one board member absent, as this project has found no consensus. With Tom Powers out, she instead encouraged members to write up any additional impacts that they felt had not been discussed to help guide that vote, as well as the written justification of its results.

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