Consultants for the Trans-Hudson project included a new face when they appeared before Town of New Paltz Planning Board members July 22, that of Tarrytown zoning attorney Katherine Zalantis. Based on her initial posture, Zalantis may have been retained as something of a bulldog, sternly telling board members that they had dragged their feet for far too long. But the board’s own attorney firmly rejected the idea that anyone other than Zalantis’ own clients are at fault for the project extending into its sixth calendar year under review. Despite any posturing, it appears the project is edging closer to a final approval.
Charles Bazydlo, the attorney who has represented the various landowners and other players since the beginning, said that Zalantis was there to provide a “fresh look” and review the status of the project. Preparing for such a look is apparently what they’ve been up to since their last appearance about four months ago. In the meantime, they also submitted a new look for the CVS and Five Guys buildings, complete with a quaint white fence. Shortly before the meeting, they also filed another 85-page report; chair Adele Ruger chastised them for making such a large submission at such a late hour, but Bazydlo brushed it off as simply technical data which he evidently didn’t feel board members or their consultants needed to read.
The submission schedule for the Planning Board is a bit ambiguous. When an application is on the agenda for the first meeting of the month, materials must be submitted two weeks earlier by noon. The second meeting of the month, including this one, are listed as “workshop” meetings and there is no deadline for submissions listed at all for these. There is no functional difference between regular and workshop meetings generally, although the lack of deadline appears to be an important one in this case. Ruger nevertheless seemed irked that such a large document was provided only scant hours earlier, even as Bazydlo sought to minimize its importance by explaining it as “just the analytical data” supporting groundwater studies.
Zalantis began her comments by framing the project’s progress as having five “hurdles” and a number of “minor site issues.” She echoed the applicants’ position that the long delays on this project have been caused by Planning Board inaction, but no one on the other side of the table appeared to agree. Rather, they were told by members of the public and the board, as well as by the board’s attorney Richard Golden, that it’s the long months between piecemeal submissions of information which has slowed this project’s progress through site plan review to a crawl. Golden told Zalantis that he recognized her tactic as an “attempt to set up a ‘vested rights’ claim, which is not well-placed.” That’s a legal argument that a property owner’s due-process rights have been interfered with improperly, and stems from the fourteenth amendment.
The new attorney complained that her client was being forced to petition for a water district extension, but was told that this had only ever been framed as a suggestion. With that point clarified, it seems that this project will be proceeding with wells instead. Village trustees have made clear they have no interest in allowing such a water district extension, and as they have the treatment plant, they call the shots in this case. Town engineers will need to confirm those data. On the other hand, members of the Environmental Conservation Board believe that at least hooking up to municipal sewer could save many trees on the site.
During public comment, Lee Bell questioned the sincerity of Trans-Hudson representatives in their dealings with state transportation officials, saying that she’d been told when she went to the local DOT office on April 4, that no talks about the Empire State Trail had taken place. Bell also raised concerns about having an entrance crossing the trail on Route 299. The consultants for the project countered with their own DOT meeting a few weeks later, which resulted in conceptual approval of the project across the trail.
Talks to route the Empire State Trail behind these buildings did not yield an agreement, because the trail was slated to be finished this year while the CVS project has no clear end date. Bazydlo said he’d speak to his clients about revisiting the issue, but made no promises.
Kitty Brown expressed appreciation for a tree survey being performed, but noted that she’d first requested that work — which is required under town law — four years ago. Brown characterized it as “a deforestation plan,” with 90 trees marked for execution, rather than an inventory. Along with the tree survey, other new information has emerged since Planning Board members determined the project would not have significant environmental impacts back in 2017, and Brown thinks it would be appropriate to reopen that environmental review.
There is a preference for more stays of execution coming from the Environmental Conservation Board, as well. Rose Rudnitski, speaking for that group, advocated for a 65-foot vegetative buffer to shield noise from the Thruway, and singled out two particularly old oak trees as worthy of preservation. Typically, it’s older trees that are most likely to be saved from development. She echoed Browns’ concern that the tree survey should have been completed years earlier. For those which do not make the cut, as it were, Rudnitski reminded Planning Board members that a permit would be needed to kill and remove any tree within 75 feet of the road which is seven inches in diameter at 12 inches above the ground. She also advanced a recommendation for permeable pavement, which Zalantis quickly rejected as something her clients were not offering, but Golden gently pointed out that board members can require such things regardless.
Bazydlo closed the discussion as he has several times since 2013, by asking for a draft resolution for approval. His request was again roundly rejected. The CVS/Five Guys project may be closer to approval than ever before, but it’s not there yet.