An even smaller number of critical environmental areas now being considered
After meeting resistance from New Paltz Planning Board members who disagree on how much more money and time would be spent on reviewing affected applications, a scaled-back proposal for naming some Critical Environmental Areas (CEAs) was presented to the town council at its May 6 meeting. CEAs do not actually add any protection to affected land, according Ingrid Haeckel, the Environmental Conservation Board (EnCB) member who has been shepherding this idea through. Rather, if a large subdivision is proposed in a CEA, it simply results in a box being checked that reminds Planning Board members to consult existing town documents like the Open Space Plan and Natural Resources Inventory as they do their work. This is what Planning Board members should be doing for applications regardless, and the CEA flag should serve as a reminder that it’s definitely worth a look when it’s waved.
However, Planning Board attorney Rick Golden convinced most members of that board that rolling CEAs out at the scale proposed — six of them covering more than half of the town land not inside of the village line — would mean that projects take longer to review and cost applicants more in terms of consultant fees. That resistance by the volunteers who would be tasked with enforcement has led to the proposal being reduced to four, and now two, areas to be designated. The two survivals are the Ridge, which is already protected and is unlikely to have many projects anyway, and the Plutarch woods and wetlands on the eastern side of town, which has similar ecological value, but no protection whatsoever. Both are large areas of habitat for non-humans, for which the greatest risk is slow fragmentation by means of multiple smaller development projects that are not reviewing while keeping in mind the context of the larger area.
Haeckel said that these large areas without human occupation help make New Paltz resistant to climate change by, for example, protecting against flooding. Checking the CEA box would only matter for projects of ten acres or more, or for subdivisions. EnCB members would be willing to conduct pre-application to discuss natural features and strategies for designing projects to avoid habitat fragmentation, which theoretically would allow developers to avoid having to make several new versions of plans to address those necessary questions because they are considered in the original design.
A hearing was set to begin on May 20, and town council member David Brownstein suggested mailing all affected property owners. However, Dan Torres discouraged that as it may set an unintended precedent, setting up for a potential lawsuit in the future if the same extra measures were not put in place when considering some other law.
Justice center could be completed this summer despite pandemic setbacks
The worldwide supply chain has been a problem for construction this year, but the Town of New Paltz’s justice center is still on track to be under budget even if a few bits pulled from the original bid go back in. Consultant Matt Eyler said that some contractors had to pay more for materials than anticipated, but the terms of the signed agreements have held thus far and the project looks to be $700,000 under budget. That’s good, because as has happened with other uptown wells, this one has become too salty to be usable for some reason and a hookup to the municipal system is being requested. There will also be money to pave some areas initially left as gravel out of fear of cost overruns and to run a natural gas line to power the backup generator that’s required.
Eyler believes police should be able to move in by the time their lease expires in August, but court personnel may not come over for a month or two after that.
Foreclosed property to become open space
Town of New Paltz council members are supportive of using the new real estate transfer tax to buy up some property that was to be on the county tax foreclosure sale. Picking it up for the minimum is a privilege extended so long as there is a valid public purpose, Supervisor Neil Bettez explained last week. The properties in question have cycled onto the county tax list more than once, and Bettez believes it’s because they are bought sight unseen by non-local investors who only later discover how little could be built upon it due to wetlands or other conditions. Putting such property into public open space would keep it off the tax lists, and the parcel Bettez is looking at now only yields about $300 a year when it’s actually paid.