Discovering how to fix the Discovery Institute

The weird land-use problems linger at the site of the Discovery Institute on Plains Road in New Paltz. This unusual property is so far off from modern health and zoning requirements that it’s difficult even to figure out how to fix it, a fact which was made quite clear when Village of New Paltz Planning Board members took a look at the latest attempt during their April 6 meeting. This is a single lot with four homes on it, homes that were built to share resources like electricity and waste treatment. Board members for the institute are trying to carve off a portion of the land to sell one of the homes, but there remain a number of questions that need addressing for that to come to pass. Board attorney Rick Golden summarized the issues and a representative of the applicant agreed to start work on getting them addressed.

When updates are made to a nonconforming use, the hope is to make it conform to current rules — or at least to conform with the rules more than before the new plans were filed. Golden noted that under this plan, three of the four houses will still be on a single plot of land, when the zoning code doesn’t allow more than one primary residence per lot. It’s possible that just keeping that as it is would require a variance, but that call will have to be made by a code enforcement officer from the village’s building department. There are already variances the applicant expects, such as for the various setbacks and some sheds that were previously built in those setbacks.

Sharing may be caring, but it’s not always compliant with modern code and practice. At one time, two of the houses on this property shared an electricity meter, and that had to be corrected. More complicated is the fact that two of the houses share a single septic system. The applicant will need to find out if a county health permit is required for such a scheme. If it is, an agreement on how the property owners would share the maintenance will be needed.

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Golden also noted that there are details on the plans that are not consistent, like the precise dimensions of the new lots and pointed out that buildings near the property lines — such as those sheds — need to be included on the plans to be reviewed.

While the applicant did have a surveyor carefully work out the specifics, Golden thinks that an engineer should also take a look because of the complicated circumstances and inconsistencies. The attorney also called out that it appears this subdivision would result in cutting an oddly-shaped lot into two even more oddly-shaped lots, noting that planning board members will have to decide if this is good planning in the long run or not. As the applicant has many other questions to answer before returning, board members may have plenty of time to think about that question.

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