The nearly complete building at 51 Main Street in New Paltz, referred to by some as “the big rectangle,” has met another stumbling block in the owner’s quest to get it open for business. There is not adequate access to the building via motor vehicle, making it impossible for the village planning board to approve the amended site plan. Developer Dimitri Viglis must resolve that issue.
As explained by board attorney Rick Golden, the only way to get to the building’s parking spaces is by driving over village property. That’s a detail which was overlooked when the project was approved in 2014, and it might not have become an issue had Viglis not been forced by the building regulations to file an application to amend the site plan. He had to do that because various other changes to the plans had made it impossible for the owner to obtain a certificate of occupancy.
This is the second time Viglis has sought a change of use for the project. The project originally proposed a two-story restaurant and penthouse apartment. Viglis sought to modify the plan by putting offices on the second floor. The present application would replace restaurant with retail so as to avoid some of the other issues which have arisen.
The full site plan was not reviewed during that second round, Golden explained. A late-afternoon email from the mayor caused the planning board to look more closely to this application.
Viglis has been plagued by problems which some villages trustees have characterized as self-created. To the consternation of many New Paltz residents, his building was designed to be as tall as zoning allows. But the developer then discovered that there wasn’t enough room to put mechanical systems he needed on the roof. So he sought permission to bury a propane tank a few feet from the village parking lot behind the building.
His pleas may have been what convinced village officials to look into selling the lot to a private developer. Unfortunately for Viglis, his bid for that property was not the most appealing.
By removing plans for a restaurant, his change of use is intended to eliminate the need for bulky roof machinery or underground propane tanks. But now he has learned that driving through the village parking lot to access 51 Main Street is also an issue. As board chair Eve Walter explained, the lack of an easement has halted the process.
The developer thought he had some assurances that an easement would be forthcoming once the sale of the lot was complete. The mayor had put it on Facebook, he said.
Golden denied that plans to work with neighboring propertyowners constituted an agreement. If the trustees declined to agree, Viglis could try to convince members of the zoning board of appeals that the easement problem was not one that he had created.
Walter said that there was “nothing we can do at this level.” She suggested Viglis pursue the other options.
“We’re stuck,” agreed her colleague John Oleske.
This obstacle comes at a difficult time for Viglis. His present application was filed in response to a notice from a village building inspector that he’d better get this project wrapped up. It wasn’t immediately clear how this delay might impact village enforcement against him.
The conversion of the space at 58 Main Street from coffee house to restaurant was approved by the village planning board after local musicians argued that its denial would cost New Paltz a valuable space for artistic expression. Though building owner Bobby Downs said he shared those misgivings.
One open-mike host doubted Downs’ sincerity on that count as he left the building.
After becoming established under the names Muddy Cup, Cafeteria and Cafamelia, the coffee house was closed down by the most recent leaseholders this summer. The change of use will result in a kitchen being installed again as the spoace is reopened as a Tibetan restaurant, Downs said.
Lily Lavender Wolf identified herself as a member of the artistic community and a frequent open-mike host at 58 Main and elsewhere. Wolf termed the place “the hub of the entire town. The open-mike nights and Sunday jazz jams had originated in the Slash Root coffee bar next door to 58 Main and migrated into Cafeteria when the former venue was closed down around 2012. She warned that “the townies” might desert the community entirely. New Paltz would thereby lose its best part, she said, and “never have the same charm.”
Several others expressed similar sentiments, saying 58 Main had been a safe space for queer residents and ideal for those who wished to spend long hours working without feeling isolated. Some 23 others sent in letters with similar sentiments.
Board chair Eve Walter explained that it was beyond the purview of planning board to dictate what sort of business was conducted in the space. Downs said he appreciated the business model, but that it was difficult to maintain profitability for it. He noted that he had turned down tenants offering higher rents, such as bars and restaurants where standard bar-type food like pizza and burgers would be served. They didn’t fit his vision of New Paltz, he said.
John Oleske agreed that the café was a public good, but said it wasn’t within the powers of the planning board to preserve that good.
The board approved the change of use unanimously. As Downs left the room, Wolf called loudly after him, inviting him to perform an anatomically implausible act upon himself.