Smiles and golden shovels were set against the briskness of a December morning, as ground was formally broken on the Zero Place development at the corner of Mulberry Street and Route 32 North in New Paltz. After a planning process praised for being thorough and thoughtful, but also criticized for being lengthy and confusing — sometimes by the same people — construction on this net-zero-energy mixed-use building began immediately after those shining shovels were plunged into well-turned earth. The bureaucratic barriers now surpassed, all that remains is every challenge that construction might bring.
Developer David Shepler, who was inspired by his own net-zero home just a few blocks away to try to use the village’s neighborhood-business-residential zone (NBR) as a place to expand on those principles, admitted that there were times he thought the project would never be approved. On the morning of December 19, however, his excitement was palpable as he described the 15 geothermal wells and 260 kilowatts of solar power which will ensure that residents of the 46 apartments don’t use more energy than is created on site.
“If I can live this way,” Shepler recalled thinking, “imagine if we can scale it.” The NBR had the right rules, he believed, and the two lots became available after a terrible fire in late 2014.
Getting Zero Place to approval led to a number of village residents to become engaged over the project and the related zoning. Mayor Tim Rogers, arriving on his bicycle to speak at the groundbreaking, said that this “resulted in a better project” overall. The planning process led also to changes to NBR rules only recently passed, which among other things will ensure this is the only four-story building on Route 32 North for the foreseeable future.
Shepler thanked Rogers, as well as deputy mayor KT Tobin and trustee William Wheeler Murray of the Village Board for their support, in addition to village Planning Board members past and present who reviewed the application. He also heaped accolades on his several partners and many consultants, and shared what he believes motivates his entire team: concern about climate change, the preservation of open space made possible by building more densely, revitalizing the North Chestnut “wasteland” and investing in the local community. He also offered gratitude to former mayor Jason West, whose idea for that corridor eventually became the NBR zone, and praise for late Planning Board chairman Maurice Weitman, who largely wrote the NBR code and shepherded it through to passage. That stretch of Mulberry Street also bears his name.