When the public hearing for long-anticipated gateway zoning rules was opened on May 2, New Paltz Town Board members heard a lot about the Ferris Woods senior housing apartment complex planned for the end of Brouck Ferris Boulevard. The engineer for the developers on that project even remarked on it, and whether this entire zoning process might be built around stopping a specific project. It’s not a new question, but the particulars have changed; four years ago the accusation was that this zoning was intended to stop the CVS project. While many nearby neighbors of Ferris Woods did appear, board members also heard testimony about the wider proposal to amend the comprehensive plan and pass zoning to match. More than an hour was spent listening to those views, and the hearing was held open as well.
Members of the New Paltz Climate Action Coalition see this as an opportunity to add a ban on power plants and related facilities in the four newly-created zones. State rule changes have made it very attractive to site small power plants in the mid-Hudson Valley, and anything under 25 megawatts of power is regulated through local zoning. Most local zoning does not mention power plants, and that can mean it’s allowed by default. They offered additional language to prevent these small plants, which are themselves powered with fossil fuels, from being constructed locally. On top of that, they offered to help write rules to aggressively pursue energy-efficient green building techniques, to mitigate ever-worsening climate change impacts.
Others had technical advice. John Gotto suggested tweaks to language to protect from terra-forming lots, while Toni Hokanson questioned the thoroughness of the traffic and build-out analyses. Former Planning Board member Lynn Bowdery identified the introduction of design guidelines as a watershed moment in town zoning.
When discussing the law later in the meeting, council members confirmed with advisor Michael Zierler that the contract to look at traffic only called for a traffic study if the new zoning appeared to generate more vehicle trips than the present law would, and that that is not the case. He also explained that the fiscal impacts Hokanson was expecting with the build-out analysis are not required. Nevertheless, a company representative will be asked to come explain the methodology used.
The Ferris Woods testimony at times veered too narrow to be any use for improving this zoning, but provided a glimpse into a type of tension implicit to New Paltz. Of eleven homes on the dead-ends Brouck Ferris Boulevard and Grave Avenue, four are owned by members of the Panessa family who seek to develop the wetlands-riddled parcel at the end into an apartment complex. Under the new scheme, this area would become R-1 zoning, which wouldn’t allow for such density; the original suggestion was A-1.5, which would have made it even more difficult to move forward. Other longtime Ohioville residents see the Panessas as good neighbors, but newer homeowners don’t feel nearly that neighborly. All they see are worries like a marked increase in traffic, and risks to shallow wells. Panessa family members say they’ve never hidden their right to develop the parcel, but new neighbors counter that if they wanted to do that, they shouldn’t have sold the access to Route 299 which was once part of the same parcel.
Feeling blindsided, other residents of Brouck Ferris Boulevard are mounting their campaign in any theater which comes available. Most of them did frame their comments in the context of the new zoning, focusing on improved pedestrian access to Ohioville via the Empire State Trail, upon which the new rules would capitalize. Others who will benefit from the proposed hamlet zoning for Ohioville also called that out as a big win.
Feeling targeted, Panessa family members have signaled that they’re willing to take the fight to court to protect their interests. Their engineer, Peter Setaro, laid out a case that town council members aren’t taking the hard look at impacts required under state environmental laws, and argued that this is “exclusionary zoning” intended to keep apartment buildings out. He asserted that data show too little multi-unit housing complexes in the town, but he didn’t specify whether he is aware that the village is fully part of the town.
The process being followed to review this law, Zierler later told town council members, is more than sufficient to take a hard look. Obtaining studies prior to making a determination of environmental significance is part of a process referred to as “extended EAF.” Judges have found that it’s acceptable to review questions while completing the environmental assessment form, and that this may prevent the need for an environmental impact statement entirely. A similar process was used to review the Zero Place project in the village.
“People aren’t coming to New Paltz to live in apartments,” said business owner AJ Ross.
Ohioville resident Fawn Tantillo disagreed on that count, saying that the demand for age-segregated housing is high. She was also not sympathetic to the newcomers, noting that “they knew what the zoning was when they moved there.”
However, as Laura Deney put it, “zoning is not a contract,” and can be legally changed.
This particular zoning won’t be changed yet. Council members agreed to continue the hearing until May 16.