As developers were unveiling new exteriors for the CVS and Five Guys buildings during last week’s New Paltz Town Planning Board meeting, watchers of the project are pushing for the environmental review process to be reopened. The so-called CVS proposal calls for the titular drug store, as well as a Five Guys Burgers and Fries, to be placed on the 5.6-acre parcel bounded by the Thruway, Route 299 and North Putt Corners Road, with a third potential pad site to be developed at a later date. A negative declaration of environmental significance was issued for the project in 2017, avoiding the need for a lengthy environmental impact statement to be prepared to study the impacts on traffic, noise and other environmental factors.
Town resident Bob Hughes wondered how a negative declaration was arrived at in the first place. As it happens, that vote was close — four to three — and two members who were in favor have since been replaced when their terms expired.
Hughes noted that when the vote occurred, “the Empire State Trail was just an idea,” but is now slated for completion this spring. That includes roadway changes already put in place, such as crosswalks, narrowed vehicle lanes and the introduction of a flashing yellow left-turn signal at the Putt Corners intersection. Moreover, the trail won’t be integrated into the CVS site, as has been suggested at previous Planning Board meetings. That’s important because there’s a driveway into the site proposed from Route 299, which would cross over the trail.
Plans to convert the nearby firehouse into the only such station in town have also solidified; it’s now been determined that firefighters will not have the ability to change the traffic light to red in all directions, and will instead rely entirely upon the lights and sirens on the trucks.
Hughes would like to see the environmental review process reopened, to determine if perhaps with these new factors board members might vote for a positive declaration of environmental significance instead.
Michael Zierler asked board members to arrange a full presentation of the project “as it now stands,” as considerable changes have been made since the application was filed in 2013. He also reminded board members that there’s still a pending request by the applicant to have the tree survey waived, because developers plan on removing nearly all of them regardless. Zierler called that “putting the cart before the horse,” as without the survey, it’s not possible to decide how to “bend the development to the site.”
Rather than focus on board members or project details, Joel Oppenheimer gave a blunt appeal to the developers: “Please withdraw this project.” He framed it as an appeal to their humanity, evidence of which he has found lacking until this point. Many other sites would be superior for this proposal, he said, adding, “I just don’t get it.”
Rather than respond to that request, attorney Charles Bazydlo began his own remarks by reminding board members that the environmental review is complete, and what remains are site plan issues for what he called an “as-of-right use.” At this meeting he wished to focus on the new visual design which includes more landscaping along with building designs more in keeping with what’s been requested by residents and board members, as well as details around water and septic systems.
The new site design is intended to provide a “country feel,” board members were told, with features like split-rail fencing, peaked roof lines and grassy areas. Developer Ary Freilich, noting that while trees along the perimeter will be preserved, most of the others “will die anyway” due to the stress of construction. He promised to “green it up as best we can.”
The existing well, first dug to service the house on the property, has been “compromised,” the attorney said; new test wells will be drilled to find sufficient water. Bazydlo said that talks to hook into the village system “haven’t really progressed.” He may not be aware that on November 28, village trustees agreed to send a letter to Town Supervisor Neil Bettez advising that, should a request to hook into the village system be made, they are “not inclined to extend” the water district or create a new one out of concerns of overall capacity.
When reviewing the new look for the buildings, board members seemed more pleased with the aesthetics but didn’t wish to make any decisions without reviewing detailed architectural drawings as well. The attorney did not have details such as the building height at his fingertips and board members wanted those specifics.
“They look nice,” said member Matt DiDonna, but “I’ve got nothing else.”
Bazydlo said that only “two issues were identified,” but board attorney Rick Golden corrected that characterization by pointing out that while two issues were focused upon, that doesn’t mean those are the only remaining issues. Bazydlo then presented another position, that board approval of the appearance was desired before money spent providing those detailed plans.
When it comes to the entrance from Route 299, the two attorneys also framed the issue differently. For Bazydlo, applying for a DOT permit is a mere formality; Golden, however, said that state officials “don’t like to say no,” making the mandated “hard look” at the issues all the more important. If board members don’t like the idea, transportation officials will take notice. Bazydlo then noted that the Mobil on the other side of the Thruway has two such curb cuts.
The decision why the Empire State Trail runs around the corner rather than behind the buildings falls to state transportation officials, Bazydlo said. Freilich added that his proposal included a public bathroom and seating alongside the trail if it was placed in the back of the site, but that there was “no interest” on the part of trail planners.
More to come as the review of this application continues at a future meeting.