New Paltz Town Planning Board members will be sending to the Town Board their views on proposed legislation to designate Critical Environmental Areas within the Town, rather than trying to vote in a unified statement. The document outlining the questions and attitudes held by each member was not provided at the meeting or available online by press time, but those present engaged in discussion around their positions to some extent.
Critical Environmental Areas, if designated, would be portions of the Town wherein developers are made aware much earlier in the planning process that a “hard look” would be taken at impacts of a project, as that term is understood pursuant to the State Environmental Quality Review act.
Where board members appear largely to agree is that they’d like to be involved in refining the language to ensure they know how it should impact their reviews. Matt DiDonna wasn’t sure that was necessary, saying that addressing the mechanics of a new law is something they could turn to their professional consultants to obtain. Both attorney Richard Golden and engineer Andy Willingham signaled that more specificity in the law would be helpful. In particular, they want to know what a “heightened environmental review” is and the particulars of how they should alter their technical analysis to achieve it. Nevertheless, Golden praised the Environmental Conservation Board members who crafted the proposal for carefully composing the bill within the context of SEQR rules.
Amanda Gotto said she’d be more comfortable if the particular unique features in each of the areas — which include large wetlands east of the Thruway, woods near the capped landfill in the north part of Town, corridors along the Wallkill River and Black Creek, and open spaces west of the river — were identified on maps so erstwhile developers would know precisely what challenges they might face. However, extensive mapping of that sort hasn’t been done on these largely private lands. Ingrid Haeckel, chair of the Environmental Conservation Board, explained that free reviews of proposals by that group would be available to developers before or when they sought to file a Planning Board application.
Lyle Nolan opined that developers don’t set out to cause environmental damage, and get “frustrated” when the find out only after extensive time and money is expended that a project might have to be reworked to avoid those issues “before they fall in love with their plan.” However, attorney Golden warned that becoming wed to a particular idea can easily happen long before any formal proposal is advanced.
Board chair Adele Ruger said that given the wide variety of opinions, “I don’t think a vote would be appropriate,” and that articulating the different viewpoints would give council members a better understanding of the concerns expressed. Member Jane Schanberg agreed, suggesting that the diversity of thought might be reflective of how Town residents overall felt about the legislation.
“This isn’t a closed topic for us,” Ruger said.