A hearing on the idea of limiting a section of Huguenot Street to one-way motorized traffic was also used as an opportunity to vent frustrations about the state of civic engagement in the Village of New Paltz. A resident near the affected area, Greg Cannon, was accused by the mayor and deputy mayor of frequently insinuating that elected officials are following hidden agendas by proposing ideas such as this one. The exchange took place during the public hearing itself, which was ultimately left open to gather more input.
The proposal being considered would be to limit the section of Huguenot Street between Broadhead Avenue and Mulberry Street to northbound motorized traffic. Technically it would be the stretch that begins at North Front Street, but that first portion is already blocked off to create a pedestrian mall through the core of Historic Huguenot Street. The rationale for this change would be as an additional step in protecting those homes, not all of which are safely behind the pedestrians-only-past-this-point barrier.
Anne Quinn testified about coming up with the idea after observing the increasing amount of bicycle and pedestrian traffic on that portion of the road, having spent much of the past 30 years working, gardening and reading on the porch or in the front yard. “We have double the cyclists of a year ago and safety is really an issue here,” she said. “Even as cycling is on an upswing, the number of people driving to the nearby Nyquist Harcourt Wildlife Sanctuary has congested the streets further with cars parked by the entrance.”
Quinn recounted asking some neighbors for feedback prior to contacting the mayor and lamented that the pandemic limited that number. “It wasn’t any deeper than that.”
The stone houses are “fragile,” “treasures,” and “irreplaceable” in Quinn’s view, and extremely expensive to repair. A significant factor in the decision to close the portion in front of most of those houses was because the foundations were being damaged by passing traffic. “It’s a preemptive strike.”
Aiming to preserve this historic resource is an admirable goal, Cara Lee told trustees, but other options should be considered before deciding on the best one. Having drivers exit onto North Chestnut from Mulberry could have unintended consequences as they navigate that narrow road with its dearth of sidewalks. At that intersection Zero Place will be open in a few months, and a proposal to build townhouse apartments is being considered across the street. Lee feels that the traffic light that is slated to be erected just a few hundred feet to the south could increase the danger at the Mulberry corner even more.
Lee did offer some alternatives to consider: reverse the flow of traffic to send drivers out at Broadhead was one, and limiting or eliminating trucks on Huguenot Street was another. Lee urged more outreach to neighbors and consideration of alternatives, all while leaving the hearing open.
Outreach was a concern that Michael Zierler voiced, as well. The former planning board chair noted that some residents do not stay locally during the winter, and may not have received any notice that may have been mailed. Traffic studies done for projects like Zero Place bear out Lee’s concerns about concentrating traffic at the Mulberry intersection, Zierler believes, and taking the time to collect data after Zero Place and the new Stewart’s are open would be a prudent course of action. Zierler also pointed out that one-way roads can impact the ability of garbage collectors to empty containers, as the process used at County Waste — the only approved vendor for residential pickups in the village — involves a mechanical apparatus on one side of the truck.
Some residents sent in opinions in writing. Rosemary Saldan-Pawson, another resident of 30 or more years, expressed concern about the effect on the intersections at Mulberry Street and Old Kingston Road. Lisa Adelson Bhalla expressed support as a way to avoid more damage to the stone houses. Craig Shankles, another resident of the impacted section, voiced strong support coupled with a note of caution that it should be studied thoroughly to avoid unintended consequences; Shankles is also in favor of notifying property owners by mail, not just by publishing online and in a local newspaper.
Cannon’s opening words, however, elicited an immediate reaction from the mayor. “It shocks me that something like this can occur, and reach this stage of a public hearing,” Cannon began.
“Oh, Greg, please,” Mayor Tim Rogers jumped in.
“What did I do wrong?” Cannon asked.
Deputy mayor KT Tobin said, “That’s the point,” adding that holding public hearings open for a long period of time is standard procedure for this group of trustees. “That’s how we roll.”
Cannon returned to the topic of notification. “I don’t think it’s asking too much for the government to notify constituents of 12 houses” of a change that “every day will affect us directly. Having said that, and being scorned by the mayor, I’m not opposed. I don’t know enough. This needs to be an informed decision.” Cannon added another observation about potential impacts by noting that the exit from Salvation Army that spills onto Broadhead “can be a problem” for drivers turning onto that street from the state road.
Rogers attempted to place that response in context. “I can explain the hostility. This board is hyper-transparent, and what we regularly endure from Mr. Cannon is all these conspiracy theories and emails and accusations on social media; ‘follow the money.’ We are doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing: when we have an idea, we have a public hearing.” The mayor used the short-term rental law hearing as an example: “We’ve had it open for months now.” Cannon’s communications are “constant and absurd.”
“Can you tell me the last time I addressed this body?” Cannon asked.
“I can share the emails where you make outrageous accusations,” Rogers replied.
“I don’t think it’s fair for me to be attacked by the mayor without evidence,” said Cannon.
“We have the receipts,” said Tobin. “We have emails, videos from meetings.”
“Emails to you,” said Cannon. Rogers pointed out that all emails sent to the mayor can be obtained with a freedom-of-information request. Legal opinions support the position that even messages sent to the private email address of a public official can be obtained, as it’s the content of the communication, not the method of delivery, that places it in the public interest. Social media comments would also be evidence of the behavior, the mayor said.
Cannon thanked the mayor for being “low class,” and Tobin labeled the use of that phrase as itself “classist.”
Upon request, the mayor did provide one example of an email Cannon sent to the board in May, which was a question about the legality of ongoing work at the Zero Place site given the restrictions in place at that time. Part of the closing of that email reads, “The worst government regulation is unfair regulation that isn’t evenly applied. I know of many other projects that followed the rules and shut down. What makes ZP special? I hope there’s a legitimate answer that I’m not aware of and that it’s not simply because it’s the board of trustees’ pet project.”
The only other email immediately available for review was sent by Cannon’s spouse, Kathy Schwartz, who wrote, “My neighbors and I did not get notified or consulted about an item on the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting despite the fact that we are very directly impacted. The proposal for one-way traffic on Huguenot Street directly and substantially impacts those of us that live between Broadhead and Mulberry streets. None of us (except apparently those who presented this to the village) knew of this idea until someone further down the street (who happened to be scanning the NP Times) notified us.”
Rogers later confirmed that Facebook is the social media site that was used in this context, but a search of the site and local New Paltz groups suggests that Cannon’s account has been removed or shielded from public access.
The hearing on this idea was indeed held open. Trustees did not weigh in on the question whether sending notices of the hearing out by mail is appropriate. Mailing of notices has also been raised in recent years in the context of planning and zoning applications. In that case, applicants are required to send notices by first-class mail and sign an affidavit to that effect; some residents who claim not to have received such notices have asked that certified mail be required instead in those cases.