Plains Road project in New Paltz gets scrutiny

A proposal to subdivide property at 129 Plains Road in New Paltz has raised red flags for some nearby neighbors, who are concerned about how the proposal would impact both the view and the flow of water. Longtime residents recalled how what was once a lot with trees and wetlands was cleared out decades ago, and wondered if what they believe to be perpetually wet soil could even support new construction.

Leakage from pipes installed to move water from springs into a man-made pond “turned lawns boggy,” recalled one neighbor, while another said that the wetness had her concerned about the soil’s stability. Anecdotes about trucks and pets getting caught in muddy conditions bolstered those concerns. Neighbor Chris Harp described it as a “bog over which they want to put a house.”

With the plans calling for a new house set back considerably from the road, ostensibly to avoid changing the view from the road, adjacent neighbors are also concerned that instead of the idyllic scene they behold now they will be looking at a large house; the disruption of rural character would be moved, but not resolved. Engineer Andy Willingham, in explaining why the house is farther back on the plan, said, “This affects particular people next door,” while a house near the road would have a greater impact on the character of the community.

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There’s an old barn on one of those neighboring lots, and questions about how to keep it from being damaged during construction were raised. Willingham said that at 25 feet distant it was “not close” to the proposed new house.

Board member Lyle Nolan disagreed. “25 feet is close,” he said. “I don’t see a reason for cutting it that close. Nolan also pointed out to Willingham that the plans are “four inches from being a flag lot,” a property with a long driveway like a flag pole, which are not allowed, suggesting that Willingham was trying to maximize what’s possible under town zoning code.

The engineer dismissed concerns about the soils; during the first planning board meeting he produced a bag of sand which he claimed was a sample. “You can get stuck, but it’s great for building,” he said. Nevertheless, town engineer Dave Clouser is looking for more soil samples over a wider area of the site, just to be sure.

“Sand is good to build on when it’s dry, and not so good when it’s wet,” Clouser said.

As far as the view goes, Clouser was more skeptical. “There’s 75 feet of trees,” he said, and therefore “it’s hard to imagine one could see a house.”

Harp also raised another concern: the plans prepared by engineer Andy Willingham are simply inaccurate, as they indicated that the plot in question extends between Harp’s property and the river, when Harp’s land extends to the shore. The late owner of 129, Harp said, built up the shore even as he was filling in wetlands and clearing trees.

One aspect of the subdivision which concerns members of the town’s environmental commission is that it would break up prime farmland over two lots. Willingham, presumably speaking for his client, thought that an easement of some sort could ensure the farming is done by a single entity.

Neighbors also raised conflict of interest as a possible issue, since Willingham occasionally represents the town when Barton and Loguidice, where Clouser works, cannot. Willingham agreed to seek advice from the town’s ethics board members, but later said he was confident nothing would come of the perception that “we’re in cahoots.”

Clouser, who once employed Willingham when he ran his own engineering firm, said that B&L practice is to avoid that perception by not taking private clients in a town where they provide municipal services.

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