New Paltz village limits building height to 3 stories on north side

New Paltz Village hall was packed with people the evening of November 28, people eager to comment on changes proposed for the neighborhood-business-residential (NBR)district along North Chestnut Street. In the end, it seemed clear that the five trustees tasked with weighing that testimony before making any decisions each already had their minds made up before this final session of the public hearing started. In a close but predictable decision, they voted three-to-two to limit building height in the NBR zone to three stories rather than the present four. Approval of the law enacting that and other changes will occur at the next board meeting.

The hearing was characterized by taking umbrage by those elected officials and others in attendance. Trustees Dennis Young and Don Kerr said that they were both “offended” at characterizations of the committee which forwarded recommendations to change this mixed-use zoning; some residents testified that they felt members of the committee were biased against the increased density which is a cornerstone of the zone. Deputy mayor KT Tobin said she “could” say she was offended by Kerr effectively telling Planning Board members to stay in their lane, as their comments did not reflect his own conclusions on the matter. Opponents of the NBR were framed as being inattentive when the law was first passed, and supporters as driven by profit rather than people.

While none of the trustees changed their publicly-stated positions on account of the additional testimony, which lasted well over an hour, they did seem concerned about what constitutes a gauge of public opinion. Kerr continually cited the 73 people who attended a workshop on NBR changes and largely preferred three stories, and did not appear to give similar weight to those who showed up at this meeting to advocate for four instead. Tobin, whose work at the Benjamin Center deals with statistics and public engagement, cautioned against using that workshop sign-in sheet as representative of what village residents as a whole might prefer.

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“We already have a downtown New Paltz,” said former mayor Tom Nyquist, expressing a view which is common among those seeking to scale back the current rules. Others, like Zero Place architect David Toder, see the blighted North Chestnut corridor as precisely where a vision of 21st-century development should be unfurled.

Curiously, Toder and Nyquist both expressed a desire to hold off voting on the law until the impacts of Zero Place could be seen firsthand. Where they disagree is on what they expect those impacts will prove to be.

Regardless of when that final vote comes, the uncertainty may mean missed opportunity. Toder observed that many lots in the NBR couldn’t support four stories regardless of the law, which would in effect ensure the varied streetscape others have called for in their remarks. One lot which could have such a tall building is kitty-corner from Zero Place, and presently home to a dilapidated filling station and convenience store. The architect testified he’d been hired to analyze that lot for a project, but the uncertainty over the law resulted in that developer pulling out. Now a Stewart’s is being proposed, and pursuant with that corporate model company officials will be seeking a variance to build just one story there.

Planning Board chair Eve Walter believes modern and historic aesthetics can exist side by side, likening it to some cities in Europe, but not everyone agrees this is possible. Some neighbors fear Historic Huguenot Street would be eclipsed by large, hulking buildings. Much of the testimony was either imagining a more vibrant community in decades to come, or one ruined by a lack of foresight. Which outcome is tied to which height limit depends on who’s being asked.

Former mayor Jason West put a positive spin on the proceedings, saying that it would result in a “win either way,” saying, “three stories is better, but four is preferred, at least on the northern end” of the zone, beyond the Mill Brook crossing.

Another major theme was that of infrastructure. Four-story buildings cannot be supported with existing water and sewer systems, trustees were told, but others argued that if the law remains as is, the infrastructure would follow the demand.

Posturing aside, Tobin did laud the largely civil way in which this debate has been conducted in public. On the other hand, she lamented that the new height restriction will make it impossible to realize the vision of the NBR at all.

A vote to pass the changes will take place on December. 12.

There are 5 comments

  1. Joe K

    This quote from New Paltz officials should absolutely terrify anyone who owns a business, owns a home, owns property, or plans to “join” the community as a new business owner or resident…”We already have a downtown…” as reason to limit building height and reject planned zoning density.

    WOW. That is the kind of simple old-school mentality that is heck-bent on having New Paltz fail.

    “We already have a downtown…”, for sure, and it is filled with more than 2/3 of its residential and commerical properties in pretty desperate need for facade rehabilitation, restoration, insufficient sidewalks, insufficient and out dated parking, empty surface lots pock marking the landscape, abandoned and un-used strip center style commerical properties, inadequate housing…2/3 of those properties not meeting any current zoning guidelines, using horrible paint colors, or not painting at all so they are filthy, signage violations, a block by block list would reveal an astonishing bad situation.

    So why on heaven and earth would someone who is supposed to be thoughtful in assesing the future of
    development be a part of the problem. Guess we’ll take our business to Uptown Kingston like everyone else – that’s where the future is unfolding in a very positive and interseting way.

    1. Villager 99

      New Paltz, town and village, is a perpetual motion machine of making money, with or without you in the community in any capacity, commercial or non-commercial, the laws of physics notwithstanding. That is what makes this place so wonderful?
      As to Kingston, it is still in Ulster County, replete with the same county government and a city charter that enjoins a mayoral position as does New Paltz.
      You ought to be required to go to all the Village and Town planning board, zoning board, government elected officials board, assessment board of review for a year. Then, maybe, you’ll get to know that here in New Paltz all is over, under, upside and down. And that’s just on Sundays?

  2. Nathan

    Backwards and sad. North Chestnut is such an ungraceful entrance to our beautiful town. Having businesses in a potentially walkable area would bring more money to our town, less of an incentive to get in our cars and drive uptown or out of New Paltz, and would bring light to such blighted abandon lots. No one’s trying to build skyscrapers, just adequate housing for a village with a growing university and young families.

  3. Villager One

    I still say a one-story firehouse on the corner of Henry W. and North Chestnut Street would appease me. The Village taxpayers just acquired a new $200,000 fire truck, and God only knows where they are keeping it now? Everything could be gassed up right here without having to drive over to the gas tank behind the Village Highway Department as Fire Station #2 requires.

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