A public forum will be held at New Paltz Village Hall on Wednesday, April 1 to inform residents about proposed revisions to the Village zoning code and solicit their input. The changes proposed by the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) to Chapters 9-16, 21, 23 and Chapter 86, Section 212 would expand the Commission’s mandate to provide guidance on design changes to properties within the Village, but outside the Huguenot Street Historic District and other existing landmarked properties.
According to a presentation that HPC chair Thomas Olsen made to the Village Board at its February 26 meeting, a disconnect exists between the protected status of downtown New Paltz on the State and National Registers of Historic Places and the limitations in the code of such protections to eleven landmarked buildings plus Huguenot Street. As a matter of public policy, the HPC is not necessarily consulted for guidance when a downtown building applies for a building permit, while applicants within the protected areas are required to obtain a Certificate of Appropriateness based on their planned designs and materials. As a result, buildings deemed eyesores by the public stand a greater chance of obtaining Planning Board approval, and HPC members end up with an earful of complaints. The code revisions would extend the requirement for applying for a Certificate of Appropriateness to developers and renovators in the entire Village.
Olsen made the case that, without such a process, downtown landowners will see their property values go down and residents’ quality of life will suffer as the Village’s historic character is eroded incrementally by small, poorly-thought-out changes. “Degradation occurs in tiny increments, not just by bulldozing,” he noted. He argued that contractors want guidance and clarity with regard to what is expected for the look of their planned projects, and that a certification process applied consistently across the board would take pressure off the Planning Board to answer aesthetic and historic preservation questions when it should be focused on core planning issues.
The HPC’s role would remain advisory under the new rules, and it would not impose limits on changes to interiors or surfaces not facing public thoroughfares, such as the rear walls of buildings. Mayor Tim Rogers compared the Commission’s mandate to a “consulting service to applicants,” noting, “We’re intentionally trying not to come up with a design standard.” “It’s subjective,” agreed trustee KT Tobin. “‘Appropriate’: What does that mean? We have to hit the sweet spot. I like our funky, shabby-chic aesthetic.”