New Paltz Environmental Conservation Board members wish to make the designation of critical environmental areas one of their first accomplishments in the new year.
The designation a mechanism under the State Environmental Quality Review [SEQR] act, and in an board document the rationale is laid out as follows:
“The purpose of the designation is to alert landowners, developers and regulatory agencies to the features of concern so that harm to important areas can be minimized, or environmental hazards can be avoided. [Designation] helps to formalize awareness about important resources that might otherwise be overlooked and ensure that they are considered in determining the significance of a proposed action during SEQR.”
Many types of projects would not be affected by being in a critical environmental area. One- and two-family homes and smaller work is not reviewed at the Planning Board at all. Projects that are designated “type 2” for environmental review purposes don’t need additional studies, and likewise would not be subject to more scrutiny. Larger projects, which already tend to get a lot of public involvement, could be affected, but the thinking is that this would give developers earlier notice about potential areas of controversy and allow them to give thought to addressing those concerns earlier in the process. The notice would result from completing an online environmental assessment form.
Six different areas are proposed for the designation, representing riparian, wetland and forested areas. They trace the Wallkill and Kleine Kill, the Swarte Kill and Plutarch wetlands and the large forest tracts of Plutarch, Clearwater and Stony Kill. The Shawangunk Ridge is also included.
Board members suggested asking Planning Board members for feedback, including how many projects a year might be impacted, but they also set a public hearing for February 6 for approving the map.
Ingrid Haeckel also provided a summary of what work the volunteers did last year. Nine Planning Board projects were reviewed, some of them “multiple times,” and members went on five site visits pursuant to that work. The town tree law is under their auspices to administer, but it’s not used often and Haeckel said that it has “shortcomings.”
Research into a variety of questions has also been par for the course, and Haeckel mentioned digging into the state plastic bag ban as being particularly “frustrating” due to the “lack of clarity” in its implementation. The law in the village doesn’t allow single-use bags at nearly any business, but the new state law exempts restaurants and taverns. Given the density of restaurants and bars in the village, that’s a big hit, and Haeckel said it took some time to confirm that home-rule rights don’t apply here, meaning that state law preempts the more restrictive village code.
They have worked to work ever more closely alongside their Planning Board colleagues, with a member attending nearly every Planning Board meeting, and Planning Board vice chair Amanda Gotto returning the favor. Most EnCB members are somewhat new, and they are considering taking some of the training available to Planning Board members to deepen their understanding of their role.