New Paltz Village Planning Board members voted unanimously to approve the Zero Place project at their April 3 meeting. The Zero Place proposal is for a mixed-use building to be constructed on the empty lot at the corner of Mulberry and North Chestnut streets. It would include 46 apartments over a floor of retail space; the entire structure is intended to be net-zero in regard to energy usage, hence the name. While the approval did not get any dissent from the table, lingering concerns remain, particularly among those who live closest to the site. A number of conditions must also be met for developer David Shepler to secure a building permit and the certificate of occupancy for the completed structure.
Cara Lee encouraged board members to look at the entire application with “fresh eyes,” as the review had been a “long and demanding process” which involved numerous alterations to the plans since they were first filed in January, 2016.
In particular, Lee reminded board members that the Empire State Trail will eventually pass right by this project. She also called out the fact that the area of disturbance is just below the threshold which would trigger a formal storm water pollution prevention plan, and encouraged board members to nevertheless consult with state environmental officials about runoff control during construction.
The Empire State Trail, which will run from Manhattan to Buffalo via Albany if and when completed, was also on the mind of Brad Barclay. He asked board members to consider if these plans will leave the intersection of Mulberry and North Chestnut streets ready for the level of pedestrian and bicycle traffic that trail could attract. Like Lee, Barclay also brought up the size of the area of disturbance; unlike her, he questioned if the calculations were accurate.
Board chairman Michael Zierler did not, as some in his position around the county have, read the entire ten-page resolution into the record. Instead, he touched upon various conditions being imposed in the approval. They include the filing of various deed restrictions and easements pertaining to maintenance and access, the removal of soil contaminated when STS Tires burned to the ground, payment of $137,500 in lieu of setting aside sufficient space for recreation, and acquiescence to at least two reviews of rooftop deck activities by Planning Board members to determine if the management plan thereto is working as intended. There will be no reserved parking in the lot, and five separate plantings from a list of species that include a few native plants must be installed.
Reached after the meeting, Shepler said that while he’s pleased with the outcome, he’s come to believe that there are structural deficiencies in how the process of review is set up. The result, in his view, is that people bringing progressive ideas such as a net-zero-energy building to the table can be deterred by the time and cost. “It’s the ones we don’t want that survive,” he said, such as proposals to bring in cookie-cutter retail outlets similar to what’s found coast to coast. “Eventually, I will try to help in some way,” he said, suggesting that in the future he might apply to be a municipal volunteer, or possibly even seek elected office.
While the process has been a long one and doubtless costly, Shepler said that “it isn’t just cost for me,” as he is committed to the concept of making it possible for renters to benefit from living in a net-zero-energy home; he bought the first home to be built in the Green Acres development behind the community center.
There remain more hoops through which to jump before Zero Place will be manifest, but Shepler hopes to break ground this summer. He said he wasn’t expecting that national politics would impact the project, but it appears they may: tariffs on steel and solar panels will hike up the construction costs, if they’re in place once building commences.
Project engineer Barry Medenback predicts that construction will take between 14 and 16 months to complete.
The self-styled Friends of New Paltz also took the occasion to reflect upon the process, and provided a written statement summarizing their thoughts. It is included here in full.
“Over a two-year period, Village of New Paltz residents and neighbors of the proposed Zero Place development raised many questions and concerns about the project. Collectively, these community members consistently voiced concerns about the project’s size and scale and significant related visual, environmental, traffic, safety and parking issues with the Village Planning Board. The community brought considerable expertise before the board on the full range of issues raised. People attended dozens of meetings and wrote numerous letters to consistently express what they believed was at stake. It is disappointing that despite these concerns there were no significant changes to the project.
“Review of the Zero Place application was a long and difficult process. Friends of New Paltz suggest that the following are three important “lessons learned” for the community from the Zero Place review.
“1) Zoning — Although the 2015 NBR (neighborhood/business/residence) zoning was based on good concepts it lacks sufficient guidance for decision-making by the Planning Board and needs to be changed by the Village Board;
“2) Process — the board abandoned the standardized “tried and true” environmental review process (SEQR — State Environmental Quality Review) for all significant projects in communities in New York. This resulted in a poorly-defined and long review. SEQR would have required evaluating alternatives, and would have provided a more predictable and comprehensive decision-making process. SEQR is designed to effectively incorporate public input. It also would have provided a full record of the issues that emerged, and their resolution, for future reference.
“3) Planning for the future – to move forward with mixed use development for New Paltz’s North Chestnut corridor, planning for basic infrastructure (water, sewer, traffic, complete streets and historic preservation) is needed before there is more development.
“This was a long and trying process for both the Planning Board and the public. We hope that the project as approved will be successful for future residents, the community and the developer/owner. We encourage the Village Board to move forward to adopt the revised NBR zoning.”