New Paltz village struggles to set height requirements for future buildings

The height of future buildings along North Chestnut Street in New Paltz is still to be determined, as a likely two-to-two vote made it more expedient to continue the public hearing for which it’s a central question until all five members of the New Paltz Village Board are present.

The hearing, or rather hearings, on possible changes to the neighborhood-business-residential district (NBR) was called to order November 14. Two hearings — one with the maximum height retained at four stories, the other cutting it back to three — were scheduled because while three trustees prefer the shorter structures, only two were present. Much the same situation made it impossible for the majority to vote for the three-story version at the hearing itself. In theory, the purpose of a public hearing is to allow trustees to hear new information which may inform their opinions on an issue, but it appears that none of these elected officials is likely to reverse course.

Most of those who spoke were members of the group mobilized in response to Zero Place, the first project under the NBR rules, and they all prefer three stories. The lone dissenter was Zero Place developer David Shepler, who advocates for “no less than” four stories in height. Both arguments were bolstered by documents produced in planning think tanks: the Regional Plan Association for shorter and the Pace Land Use Law Center for taller.


When Mayor Tim Rogers sought a motion to close the hearing, his deputy KT Tobin questioned doing so after just one meeting, saying she wanted to hear from more members of the public. Trustee Dennis Young, noting that together with Rogers and the absent Don Kerr three stories would hold sway, asked if either Tobin or William Wheeler Murray might simply change their vote to move the process along; neither was inclined to do that.

One side of the issue is based on the premise that increased population density is greener and more sustainable overall; if humans continue to expand their population, they must live more closely together to reduce impacts on the rest of the world. Height restrictions imposed in recent decades have only led to suburban sprawl. On the other hand, advocates for a three-story maximum say those standards are based on existing downtown districts and especially urban areas, and note that this is not the existing downtown, and New Paltz doesn’t have the qualities of an urban environment. The NBR is only one lot deep, and not within the prescribed quarter-mile radius of the community center for creating walkable communities.

Young pointed out that trustees have “heard from the same people repeatedly for years,” and Rogers appeared confused as to what benefits might accrue from allowing members of the public another opportunity to speak, saying that there have been “numerous public workshops on this topic.” Both made it clear that they expected to officially choose the three-story option once they have all three votes at the same meeting, regardless of what else members of the public may have to say on the issue.

New Paltz residents will have an opportunity to voice their concerns about this issue at the next Village Board meeting on Wednesday, November 28 at 7 p.m.

There are 5 comments

  1. King Kong

    No building in Washington, D.C. can be taller than the Capitol building. No building in New Paltz Village should be higher than the administration building at SUNY, a Village landmark.

    1. Design and Planner

      That makes absolutely no sense…for starters, the Haggerty Administration Buildling is 9-Stories tall. No one is even remotely discussing 9-story building heights. The conversation is about 3 or 4-story building heights. Downtown New Paltz has multiple buildings at 3 and 4-stories.

      Further, as in Washington, DC, just to try and find some alignment with your thinking, elevation of the landscape plays a role. By the Potomac as by the Walkill, elevation is 30-40 feet lower than the high points further from both rivers. Thus, a 3 or 4-story building at a high point will ‘appear’ taller than one at a low elevation – basic math.

      As for New Paltz, there is no reason Downtown can not accomodate multiple 4-story buildings that place retail on street-level; office, research or other professional uses on second story; and new residential (which we desperately need) on 3 and 4th floor uses.

      As for ‘urban’ that’s the incorrect word in this conversation. ‘Urban’ here is about density, and New Paltz absolutely has a Downtown Density…and we should increase that denisty by building on our endless surface parking lots; incorporating below-grade parking within the building structures.

      New Paltz’s only real way to ‘save’ its small-town character is to in fact build on empty lots; use brick, stone,
      and other locally featured materials, and build with 3 and 4-story density. If not, what we will continue to find
      is roads like Route 32 literally littered with abandoned and empty strip buildings that are 50+ years old; empty parking lots which exhaserbate polluted runoff into the Walkill; and deny any hope of this being a true
      ‘pedestrian’ friendly community.

      Any architect or planner worth their oats knows that the proven success of towns similar to New Paltz is to eliminate the ‘tooth gaps’ in street scapes which are the direct result of surface parking lots; build at least one parking structure to centralize parking and encourage walkability; and build vertical density — 4-story buildings are not an unreasonable expectation in Downtown New Paltz.

      Anyone who says they are is lying to you.

      1. Guy Madison

        What kind of Village fire department are you referring to? Paid-professional, volunteer or some kind of combination of the two?
        The Village had notice in 1970 the Aqueduct was going to be shut down, and never made back-up provisions, even today.
        As to the sewer system, the 1970 Ulster County Sewerage Report missed every projection it made, so much so, the State came in last summer and did a repair job to save the Village streets, homes and infrastructure.
        Like every Western movie, it all boils down to water, labor, capital and cattle-bosses.

  2. Emperor Jones

    I don’t get it?
    A land owner annexes 50 acres of land from the town into the village. Then the developer gets village water and sewer out of it. Next, Woodlands Ponds is built in wetlands, and a suburban development goes in behind the old Town Hall, which is in the village but on a septic system. Finally, another developer moves into the suburban development’s $543,000 house, amongst all the other $500,000 to $600,000 houses and in order to make amends, wants to build a building four stories tall with lots of apartments for increased density of the human habitat over spread out housing and $3,000 a month senior apartments with assisted living.

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