Dozens of Paltzonians showed up at the Community Center last Wednesday, June 14, and they brought their thinking caps with them. The occasion was a public workshop hosted by the Town of New Paltz Route 299 Gateway Committee, seeking community input to the process of rethinking the way the town plans development for the area straddling Thruway Exit 18. Mike Welti, senior land use planner for Barton & Loguidice, DPC, served as moderator.
The gathering began with a PowerPoint presentation from Welti, introducing the Gateway study project, describing existing conditions in the Gateway area and raising potential opportunities for its future. The committee was created by the town board in February and charged with reviewing the town’s 1995 Comprehensive Plan and current zoning code with an eye toward updating their guidelines for the Gateway area. The latter is loosely defined as extending along Route 299 from the Village of New Paltz line to the Town of Lloyd line, as well as north and south along Putt Corners and Ohioville Roads. A moratorium on new development projects in the Gateway area has been imposed while the committee reevaluates existing regulations. “We anticipate being able to wrap up our process by the end of the year, before the moratorium expires,” Welti said.
The presentation included an overview of limitations on development in the area, such as the presence of wetlands and the absence of water and/or sewer infrastructure in various zones. Welti noted that there had been considerable advances in public discourse on the subject of community planning in the years since the Comprehensive Plan was drafted and zoning districts drawn, with more emphasis today on considerations like smart growth, sustainability, green infrastructure, mixed-use development and multimodal transportation.
The Gateway area being most visitors’ point of entry to New Paltz, transportation challenges were much on the minds of attendees and presenters alike. Welti discussed impending changes to the Gateway corridor as links to the regional rail trail system fall into place, with Phase Four of the Hudson Valley Rail Trail scheduled to begin this autumn, bringing the route from Lloyd as far as South Street. And when the workshop attendees broke up into smaller groups for facilitated brainstorming sessions, one area of consensus across all four groups turned out to be the need to make the Gateway safe and friendly for pedestrians and cyclists.
Other popular transportation-related notions included possible measures to reduce the glut of automobile traffic passing through the bottleneck where Route 299 crosses the Thruway. Participants suggested several potential locations for visitor hubs and parking areas where visitors could catch a trolley or shuttle into town. Planting thick buffers of trees along the Thruway itself, in order to reduce traffic noise, dust, exhaust fumes and visual blight, was an idea also favored by many in the group.
While some participants spoke out in favor of vernacular design, reflecting the stone-and-timber aesthetic of Huguenot Street and Mohonk Mountain House, most seemed less concerned with imposing architectural design standards than with creating a “greenbelt” to enhance the experience of non-motorized travel through the Gateway. Siting parking areas behind buildings was also a popular notion, even if it meant allowing shallower setbacks for construction. For the Ohioville hamlet especially, attendees favored a “villagelike” configuration, preserving and enhancing its sense of being a walkable residential neighborhood.
In the main, attendees rejected a one-size-fits-all approach to the Gateway area. “I feel like there’s four different zones,” said Seth McKee. “To have it all zoned uniformly, as if it were one place, is kind of foolish.”
The Gateway Committee will have its next meeting on June 27. The next meeting seeking public input is planned for September, according to Welti. More information about the planning process now underway can be found at www.townofnewpaltz.org/route-299-gateway-committee.