There is an open space protection referendum on the back of the November 2020 ballot for New Paltz residents. Here’s how the proposed new Local Law No. 1 would work: When a buyer purchases a home or piece of property, he or she would be required to pay a one-time 1.5 percent real-estate fee, to be put into a community land preservation fund. This fee does not kick in unless the home or property costs more than $245,000: the median cost of homes in Ulster County. And it does not represent a percentage of the entire purchase price, but of the amount exceeding $245,000. There is a $245,000 exemption to help protect first-time homebuyers or those coming in on the lower end of the housing market.
This plan does not impact tax dollars, according to Cara Lee, former conservation manager of the Nature Conservancy and a committee member who has helped to craft this proposal and preservation plan, and to New Paltz town supervisor Neil Bettez.
“It is a sustainable way for us to continue to invest in open space preservation, without raising taxes. A lot of people want to move here because of our farmlands and preserves and trails, and this ensures that they pay their fair share,” said Bettez. “Our current residents have been paying taxes towards creating these conserved lands for years.”
“This is probably the most important thing we can do to guarantee that the things we love about New Paltz are protected,” said Lee. “This has always been critical, but is now ten times more urgent than it was six months ago, as our housing market is under great pressure and people are seeking refuge more than ever in the outdoors.”
“Yes, people love to come here and hike and recreate and spend money at our amazing farms and restaurants and stores, but guess what?” asked Bettez. “We get to live here 365 days a year. This Community Preservation Plan is an insurance policy that allows us to continue to have these natural resources, and walking trails and clean water and air.”
Seth McKee, a 25-year resident and homeowner in New Paltz, and a land conservation manager for Scenic Hudson, strongly support this plan and encourages residents to vote yes. “We in New Paltz are blessed to have forests, farms, trails and healthy streams in our community. We have an abundance of these resources that other towns envy,” he said. “My wife and I chose to live and raise a family here because of the trails, farms and parks that are so close by. Today, in these challenging times, we see how in demand our trails are; people are connecting to open space like never before. The River-to-Ridge Trailhead is often packed with cars, as are the entrances to Mohonk Preserve and Minnewaska State Park. It’s important that we continue to safeguard special places that can sustain us in these demanding times, and afterward.”
Lee, Bettez and McKee noted that several towns like Warwick and Red Hook have had great success with the same type of legislation and were able raise millions to help safeguard working farms, watersheds, forests and other special areas in their communities.
The plan has its opponents. Local residents have been receiving mailers from the Albany-based New York Association of Realtors urging a “no” vote. According to filings with the New York State Board of Elections, the group has spent over $140,000 to defeat the proposal.
“We have never experienced this kind of money being spent to defeat a local proposal,” said Bettez. “New Paltz voters need to know that this outside group is spending so much money to deliver intentionally misleading and inaccurate information to influence the outcome of our local vote.”
To answer any questions that voters, landowners, residents and interested parties may have, Lee and Jon Orfitelli, a local realtor and chair of the Town Historic Preservation Commission, will be giving a presentation on the proposed fund and preservation plan on Monday, October 26 at 7 p.m. There will be a question-and-answer period at the end of the presentation. To register for this meeting, visit http://voteyesnewpaltz.com.