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.