Using New Paltz Village Planning Board meeting attendance as a measure, interest in the proposed black box theater adjacent to Water Street Market is quite high. Not only was the village hall meeting room filled nearly to capacity, the number of people wishing to speak essentially broke the public comment system put in place in 2015. Chairman Michael Zierler let those in attendance know it would be “impossible” to hear from all 26 people who signed up to speak in the allotted 15 minutes. Board members ultimately allowed the public comment portion to run more than half an hour, which accommodated many of those who wished to be heard.
The public comment period was added to the board’s agenda out of concern that there was no clear path for residents to comment on a project for which a public hearing is not scheduled. Testimony at public hearings appears the same as public comment, but with an important difference: what’s said during a public hearing becomes part of the record, while public comments are ephemeral. Since the option became available, residents have flocked to make comments on projects long before any public hearing is scheduled. In this case, they were speaking about a pre-application, meaning that the formal process of looking at the project has not yet even begun.
While the tone was much more positive than the reaction to a multi-screen art theater proposal several years ago, the comments were mixed. Neighbor Ravi Lynch raised questions about the impact of excavating the shale on nearby home foundations, and whether or not the parking plan would protect narrow Wurts Avenue from being used as overflow. The proposal includes obtaining use of Water Street Market parking, which is nearly empty in the evenings. Greg Burton, who owns a registered rental property on the street, said he had “mixed emotions about it” because he believed the project would need weekend matinees in order to be a successful business.
Nearby business owner Rich Gottlieb hoped that neighbors would give the idea “a fair shake,” a sentiment echoed by others who are eager to see if the idea is possible or not.
Architect Richard Miller, who also designed Water Street Market, explained that the only vehicular access would be through the market itself, not on Wurts at all. Board members laid out questions they would have about this project, include fire truck access, detailed information about how the parking lot at the market is used, impacts to drainage and where the cars now being parked in that gravel lot would be put once there was a building there. The house at 12 Main Street is expected to remain.