SUNY New Paltz removes trees to expand parking

The neighbors in the Cherry Hill community are concerned about the leveling of trees by the college that has suddenly taken place between Route 32 and Howard Street in order to build a college parking lot. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

No idea is without consequence, and sometimes the only way to resolve differences over those impacts is through neighborly communication. Residents of the Cherry Hill area of New Paltz were quite surprised when heavy equipment was brought in on campus last month and workers began removing a considerable buffer of trees between their neighborhood and college property east of Route 32.

John Shupe, assistant vice president for facilities management at SUNY New Paltz, confirmed that the work is part of the longer-term vision of putting parking on the perimeter of campus to maximize the pedestrian-friendliness of the interior. Part of that entails expanding the parking east of Route 32, and the clearing done to that end has removed mature trees right up to the property line.

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Projects of this scale are typically reviewed by members of a local planning board, but as this is state land, there is no public notification necessary and campus officials perform the required environmental reviews. At his request, Shupe was provided questions in writing Thursday about how that process unfolds, but he did not provide responses by press time.

Paul Walley, who served as ecumenical campus pastor from 1971 to 2007, lives about a block from the destruction and has emerged as a leader among concerned Cherry Hill neighbors. He and his fellows were scheduled to meet with Shupe Friday morning to discuss the project and seek ways to develop a “closer working relationship” with university officials. Their specific requests included establishing a 50-foot wooded buffer between the new parking and existing homes. Assurances that no additional trees would be removed is also on their list.

Despite there being no legal requirement, Shupe does make it a habit of knocking on the doors of neighbors likely to be impacted. In this case, he appears to have underestimated just how many neighbors would feel impacted, which is why they are looking for ways to bolster communication. Rita Donahue, whose property backs right onto the work zone, confirmed Friday that she had been “shown a map” of the plans.

“I don’t like it,” Donahue said, “but at least I can see Mohonk again after 50 years.”

Mary Fall, who has lived next to Donahue for 49 years, hadn’t gotten that advance notice, but she recalled when the last parking lot was built on that part of campus. Noise increased, she said, particularly due to “drag racing” in the lot, but on the other hand, her children discovered a new place to skateboard during the summer.

Fall lives in one of a number of houses in the Cherry Hill neighborhood which were built on campus and then relocated to accommodate the expansion of the university which has slowly swallowed portions of the village over the past 190 years. In her recollection, residents at the time “were up in arms” over the plan, but Paul Donahue — Rita’s late husband — felt that “they can’t change progress.” That’s reflected in her attitude about the current project.

Other neighbors, Walley included, feel that the communication by university officials could have been handled better. In addition, they wonder why, if there’s a willingness to plant a 50-foot buffer of trees, why they didn’t just leave the trees that were there in the first place.

Shupe and Walley alike preferred to meet out of presence of a reporter, and calls to Walley to learn what transpired were not returned by press time.

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