Science says: development near the Mill Brook Preserve is bad news
New Paltz High School student Hope Nitza has done the work to support what many New Paltz residents have believed to be true for a long time: development adjacent to the Mill Brook Preserve is ecologically damaging to one of the last large swaths of nature remaining in the community. As part of the three-year science research program offered at the high school, Nitza developed a hypothesis that the presence of nearby buildings has an impact on stream ecosystems. To test that hypothesis, Nitza collected samples of water and studied some of the macroinvertebrates — creatures without spines that are large enough to see with the unaided eye — found in those samples. Specifically, the samples were reviewed for mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies, all of which are sensitive to pollution.
Nitza’s hypothesis that the more development is present, the worse off the health of the nearby stream, was supported by the data. Impacts to these small creatures in turn reduce the food supply for the critters that eat them, which can have impacts on all the beings living in the preserve.
Planning Board members are presently reviewing an application to build homes adjacent to the Mill Brook right by the preserve. It’s unknown if they will consider this research during that review.
Hybrid meeting goes off with minor hitches
Village of New Paltz trustees tried out a hybrid style of meeting for their May 12 meeting. The elected officials gathered in village hall, while other attendees were either watching or participating online. In the opening minutes there were periods of unexpected silence and seemingly inevitable feedback until the kinks were worked out of the system. The one challenge that wasn’t entirely overcome was the fact that some of the trustees were close to inaudible, which appeared to be the result of distance from the microphone combined with the thickness of the face covering being worn. When meetings were entirely virtual, there was no requirement for any faces to be covered since no one was in the same room as anyone from a different household. The system will doubtless be adjusted going forward, until such time as all restrictions on gathering are deemed unnecessary.
New library director updates the village about library operations
Gillian Murphy, the new director of the Elting Memorial Library in New Paltz, attended the May 12 Village Board meeting as an introduction and to provide some updates about library operations. Murphy, who most recently oversaw a library in Putnam County, took over from longtime director John Giralico last month.
Murphy apprised members of the public about changes being made to operations: the teen collection is being moved to the old reference area, wait time to get digital material should be dropping because a lot more copies of popular items have been acquired and there’s a new book drop down in the parking lot.
What’s more, there are activities now being offered in person. Story hour is being conducted in the courtyard and there’s a book club that’s been meeting in person, too. Patrons are even being welcomed into the lobby if they ring the bell outside and can make appointments to browse particular areas like the children’s or historical collections. Books will still be delivered to patrons waiting in the lot if they call 255-5030 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Neighbors come out in favor of rezoning
Several residents of the Green Acres net-zero development tuned in to the May 12 New Paltz Village Board meeting to say that “in my back yard” is just fine. They were commenting on a proposal to rezone a number of parcels around the village, including some in their neighborhood. Specifically, they support developer Anthony Aebi being allowed to build town houses on lots near the Village Arms complex. Aebi hasn’t found anyone interested in building a single-family home adjacent to those apartments, and neighbors believe that town houses would provide a transition in style that would allow for more affordable options. David Shepler reported that 11 of 16 homeowners nearby agree with the plan. No one opposed provided testimony at this public hearing.
Survey on village rents being conducted
Members of the Village of New Paltz’s Landlord-Tenant Relations Council are collecting data on rent in an effort to get a sense of how many renters in the village are wrestling with an unduly high rent burden. Housing costs in excess of 30% of income are considered a burden that could put that household at risk. The survey form that can be found at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScOjfau0rkn3osheU1CScqWvi-sOb4mIpXke0E_emvva-m2jQ/viewform.
Another IDA resolution passed
Village of New Paltz trustees passed another resolution calling for more transparency about the work of the county’s Industrial Development Agency (IDA), a group that’s largely independent of outside influence and empowered to offer tax breaks with or without the support of the leaders of the taxing authorities in question. That independence is being seen as a liability around New Paltz, as the ancient property-tax system, coupled with a tax cap that was passed the same night as marriage equality in a seeming effort to avoid attention, can result in extremely tough burdens upon local governments.
Resident Sarah Wenk called out the seeming lack of accountability during public comment, and singled out agency chair James Malcolm as being “combative with members of the public.” Others who have expressed support for reining in IDA power and increasing accountability include former town Planning Board co-chair Lagusta Yearwood, developer George Sifre and business owner Teresa Thompson.
An example of what New Paltz leaders see as a lack of accountability is the fact that IDA members approved a package of tax breaks for the Kingstonian project, over the objections of the school board members who would be overseeing the budget most impacted by that decision.
County legislator Eve Walter — a regular attendee at village and town meetings, admitted to being “embarrassed” for not having thought of offering such a resolution in the legislature itself. Walter believes that resistance to any attempts to weaken the IDA would be significant, but is willing to sponsor a resolution to continue that effort.
Pit parking may be possible
The project proposed for the 2.4-acre “pit” property across from Hasbrouck Park in New Paltz includes dusting off of a “paper road” called Vanderlyn Avenue that connects Plattekill and Hasbrouck avenues. Trustees ordered a title search to see what deed restrictions exist on that parcel and have learned that village officials quit their claim on this nonexistent road back in 1988. However, that quit claim deed set out some rights reserved to the village, including the right to have that row of municipal parking spots along the western edge of the property.
What’s proposed in the project is that a private road running along the same course as the ethereal Vanderlyn Avenue would allow access to the hotel, spa, restaurant, offices and retail space developers wish to build. Parking for the project would be placed underneath all of that. If no rights were reserved, village officials would be losing the municipal spots that run behind the public works garage and past the town courthouse. The discovered document shows that those spots — and the revenue they represent — will remain.