Jennifer Welles and David Gilmour were interviewed during the February 4 New Paltz Town Board meeting to fill the planning board seat recently vacated by Stana Weisburd. Supervisor Neil Bettez advised that it’s now understood that interviews for volunteer positions should be public; past practice was that all such interviews being conducted in executive session, with that being shifted in recent years to sometimes giving the candidate the option. That veil of secrecy has now been fully removed.
Welles is executive director at the Newburgh Community Land Bank and a former member of the village’s Affordable Housing Board. While all village residents are also residents of the town, Welles no longer lives in the village and thus is ineligible to continue on that board, but expressed a desire to find a way to continue to volunteer in the community. Welles also serves on the school district’s Racial Equity Committee. Working at the land bank has made Welles aware of the State Environmental Quality Review act, the law that is applied to all projects to evaluate environmental impacts. Involvement through the land bank with municipal boards has largely been restricted to architectural review, Welles said.
A friend of former member Weisburd, Welles said that Weisburd hadn’t conveyed that being on this planning board represents a significant time commitment, with two monthly meetings, mandatory training requirements and independently reviewing materials for upcoming applications ahead of each meeting. However, Welles feels prepared to make such a commitment. The idea that planning board members tend to receive criticism whether they approve projects or deny them doesn’t bother Welles, who said that “my skin has been thickened” by work at the land bank.
Gilmour has been involved in planning professionally for 25 years and was the last person to serve as the village’s planner before that position was eliminated. Bettez zeroed in on that experience, asking, “Why would you want this? You know that planning board meetings are hell.” Like Welles, Gilmour wants to give back to the community. In a past interview, Gilmour described planning boards as something of a “supreme court” for municipal planners, because the members’ terms — seven years, on this board — tend to exceed that of elected officials and their decisions can have impacts for decades to come. In order to make those weighty decisions well requires an understanding of the law and the values of the community.
Gilmour has also served as the planner for Gloucester, Massachusetts, which like New Paltz has some of the oldest continuously occupied streets in the nation. Board members seemed interested in how that experience might be applied locally. Asked about other ways to contribute, Gilmour spoke about the value of streamlining the review of projects by helping applicants to understand not only the minimum requirements, but the concerns that are likely to be raised in each case.
Board members agreed not to make an appointment immediately, which allows the opportunity for others to apply for the open seat.