New Paltz Town Supervisor Neil Bettez sees the work for the new year as largely divided into projects and laws. One major law that’s languished is the proposed gateway zoning for the part of town near the Thruway. “We have not given up,” Bettez said, but wish to ensure whatever is passed is solid enough to discourage legal challenges. The supervisor does feel that rezoning is the right thing to do, and points to the “real conversations” about issues like aesthetics happening at planning board meetings, even before any new zoning is in place.
While the gateway zoning push was sparked by the CVS project, Bettez maintains that the questions are bigger than one proposal, or one parcel of land. “Something was always going to go there,” in the North Putt Corners Road lot for which the CVS project approval is being sought, but “hard-to-develop lots need better zoning” to ensure that the projects make sense in a given context. “We’ll probably see a lot of changes in that area in the next ten years, and we don’t want 20-year-old zoning there.”
Another law which will be considered will require inspections of rental units and will be based on a village law which is several years old. “We’ve seen issues in the past two to three years,” Bettez said, issues of unsafe conversions of houses into apartments. The situation may have been accelerated by closer regulation within village limits, where all units must be inspected annually. “Students don’t know when they move out of the village, and they shouldn’t be less safe,” he said.
Village law will also be the model for an affordable-housing law the supervisor would like to see passed, requiring ten percent of units to be priced lower in exchange for allowing builders to create more units as a “density bonus.” If the law is passed without many differences from the village ordinance, the hope is that the village’s affordable housing board can have its membership expanded to take on the review of applications to live in those units as they come into being. There are likely to be some differences, as the slightly more rural town still has room for large housing subdivisions while apartment buildings are the most likely scenario inside the village line.
The increasing trail network has posed some parking issues west of the Wallkill, and finding ways to control unsafe parking is also likely to come up at the board table in the coming year. No parking on pavement is the rule right now, but pulling a car off the asphalt tends to damage the roadside edge. There’s little support for banning parking on town roads overall, and Bettez said a compromise must be sought.
Exactly what law might be proposed to regulate the actions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers on town property is unclear. Bettez said that it’s not yet clear what can be done, and it’s a question which remains open.
With the buzz being that state legislators will legalize recreational marijuana, the supervisor still wants a local law in place regulating its use in public. He anticipates such a rule would still mean violators get charged with something less egregious — and with a lesser fine going entirely to the town — for public consumption.
Bettez is hopeful that the final lawsuits keeping water district 5 from being built will finally be scuttled, allowing the district on Plains Road to be built with taxpayer money from the residents of New York City. While that district will impact only a few dozen households, it will allow a backup source during aqueduct shutdowns, needed to prepare the Catskill Aqueduct for when a long stretch of the Delaware Aqueduct is replaced. That line is leaking an estimated 20 million gallons of Hudson Valley rain water a day, even while city officials continue to raise rates for Catskill-collected water sold to Hudson Valley communities. If the district goes forward, it likely won’t be online in time for the 2019 shutdown. With such a court victory, Bettez is hopeful that some or all of the roughly $100,000 spent defending these actions will be recovered.
That project will also include new meters for town users of municipal water, and software to allow village workers to read those meters and bill everyone who drinks from those taps.
Ground will be broken on a new fire station this year, which will become the only one in town. It will be located at North Putt Corners Road and Henry W. Dubois Drive, an upgrade to the current station #2; construction should take about a year.
Once the new fire house is open, emptying still more of the municipal complex on Plattekill Avenue, possibilities for municipal offices open up. Bettez hopes that this year it will become clearer if using that building for some or all town and village offices is a possibility or not. It’s his preference to have all the offices under one roof, and right now they are meeting frequently in executive session with experts to go over various alternative plans as well.
No state money for a joint town-village recreation plan was awarded, but a new soccer field will be created using town labor, material donated from a SUNY parking-lot project, and engineering expertise donated by Andy Willingham. $20,000 was donated from the local soccer organization, as well.
Grant money remaining for Mill Brook Preserve will be used to build two permanent bridges, but likely won’t be enough to entirely finish the trail between Sunset Ridge and North Manheim Boulevard. It will be possible to walk through the Preserve, although it may be muddy in places, without fording any streams at that point.
No word has yet been received regarding transportation improvement funds to create more sidewalks along Henry W. Dubois, but Bettez remains hopeful that the coming Empire State Trail will make that grant award more likely.
Bridges and firehouses, but no ribbon cuttings in this mayor’s future
Tim Rogers is looking to 2019 to be a year of broken ground and built bridges, and he’s not being metaphorical. Breaking ground for the new firehouse and putting new bridges into the Mill Brook Preserve are high on his list of things he’d like to see accomplished in the next 12 months.
Just like his colleague in temporary trailers off Clearwater Road, Rogers explained that Hudson River Greenway grant money will be used to install bridges in the Preserve that will replace volunteer-built ones which have proven temporary, if only after the fact. “We are prioritizing bridges first, then trailheads at North Manheim and Bonticou View Road,” he said, as the remaining funds likely won’t pay for all the desired trail improvements. “It would be nice to have a trail connecting Duzine [elementary school] and North Manheim [Boulevard].” The dreamed-for improvements, all told, “could be a million-dollar project.”
One change for 2019 is that the controversial holiday tree fire won’t be happening. “Rules exist for a reason,” the mayor said, and that includes when government officials must follow them. Mindful of the community value of gathering around open flames, Rogers is considering securing a DEC permit for “an appropriately-sized campfire” to address that need, but the large and unwieldy burning of evergreens is not to be. Village residents may leave trees curbside for collection; they will be mulched along with any brought to the DPW garage and the mulch will be available for free pickup near the sewage treatment plant at a later date.
While volunteer firefighters won’t be watching a pile of trees go up in flames, the mayor hopes that they will see an official kickoff to the project to create their new home on Henry W. Dubois Drive on or around July 15. The bureaucratic hurdles to make this project happen have been considerable, but Rogers is hopeful there won’t be further delays.
2018 is the year that parking on Sunday no longer was free, and with more visitors likely to show up as the Empire State Trail is completed there’s also a plan to create additional free parking along the periphery. Specifically, there’s a lot on the unnamed road heading to the sewage treatment plant and community gardens which Rogers wants to make more welcoming and more efficient. On his to-do list: get the giant piles of gravel and such moved, install lights, and re-stripe the spaces to make room for more vehicles. The end of this road will be where fire trucks are temporarily stored while their new home is prepared, promising a lot more activity along that stretch of pavement which until now might have been better suited to drug deals and illicit encounters. Rogers said many people see that lot as a long walk, but he notes that it’s quite close to Water Street Market.
Two lots in the heart of the village, on Plattekill Avenue and North Chestnut Street, may be put up for sale this year, but that decision is several months away and input from members of the public would be sought. Rogers said that any terms of sale would include agreement to keep the property as parking and to address deferred maintenance. He noted that such sales, if they occur, would return the land to the tax rolls as well. However, he also confirmed that conditions of such sales might include giving village officials time to find alternates, signaling that parking might eventually be off the table under a private ownership scheme. “Hopefully it will make more sense to the taxpayers, residents and people who park,” he said.
Another trails-related project is an $84,000 federally-funded study about ways to improve drainage and crossings of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, as well as ways that money can be found to implement it, but focusing on “rural character” might help keep the potential cost down. “This isn’t the High Line,” Rogers agreed.
Hidden infrastructure is always of interest to a mayor who keeps a collection of failed water pipes in his office to show the good work done to improve the system. He’s quite pleased that another state grant was awarded to continue replacing sewer mains which allow storm water to infiltrate the system, but a similar bid to help with water pipes fell short, as did a comprehensive town-village recreation plan funding request.
The sewer issue is the most critical, as there’s a consent order in place under which progress must be made, and lacking grants that work can only be paid for through rate hikes. However, “we have $10 million in water infrastructure staring us in the face,” which also can only be paid for through grants or rate hikes. The opaque state funding process, which Rogers has likened to the “Hunger Games,” leaves plenty of room for speculation as to what makes specific projects appealing. There’s open debate as to whether the consent order matters, but it does appear that the more decrepit a system, the more likely it will be to get funding. A legislative priority at the New York Conference of Mayors is to remove water infrastructure funding from the competitive environment and make it formulaic, like state funding for highway maintenance.
Rogers does plan on running for reelection this year. One piece of advice he offered to anyone seeking the job: this mayor is not a ribbon-cutter, and managerial experience is strongly suggested. ++