Former New Paltz Town Board member Kitty Brown delivered a fact-based response to a broad range of concerns that have been raised about designated some portions of the town as Critical Environmental Areas (CEA’s), but Brown’s request that town council members act on this proposal at the July 1 board meeting did not come to pass. Instead, the hearing was held open to continue to invite feedback.
Brown framed this testimony as responses to questions and concerns raised at town council and planning board meetings about these designations, which are intended to send an early signal that more review of a particular project might be warranted. They were compiled with the assistance of several town residents, current or former employees of Wild Earth, Nature Conservancy, Scenic Hudson and the state’s Environmental Conservation Department, as well as a biology teacher.
Over the course of several minutes, Brown carefully countered a number of concerns that have been raised, including those about impacts to time and cost, worries that these designations are redundant or add regulation and concerns that such a designation would somehow impede the building of affordable housing. Due to a technical error, that testimony was not included in the video of the meeting, but Brown submitted the comments in writing and was assured by Supervisor Neil Bettez that written testimony for public hearings is included in the minutes.
Brown was the only person to speak at what was technically two public hearings on this topic. The first was to designate both the Shawangunk Ridge and the Plutarch woods as CEA’s. When that hearing was first opened on June 17, the testimony was clearly in favor not only of creating these two, but the entire set of six that was first proposed. Designation results in a box being checked on the Environmental Assessment Form that’s filed with a planning board application. For projects in excess of ten acres or involving the subdivision of land, checking that box serves as a flag that there may be information worth looking at more closely about the environmental features nearby. In New Paltz, much of that information is compiled in a convenient natural resources inventory, recently completed by volunteers. After hearing from members of the public who were strongly in support of designating at least two of these areas, a majority of council members signaled that they preferred dropping that down to one as a test of the process: the Ridge, which supporters of this measure say isn’t a useful test because development interest is low because legal protection of that land is high. That’s a big enough change that a new hearing would be needed, and council members left the original open to mollify Julie Seyfert-Lillis, the only supporter of immediately designating both areas.
The reluctance does not appear to be due to a lack of concern about the environment. As Bettez has expressed, if planning board members do not support this measure, then it is less likely to be used. Those board members are against these designations by a margin of six to one; the board’s attorney and engineer have each raised some of the concerns that Brown sought to address. Town council members are keeping the now two hearings open in hopes that others will comment; thus far, there has been no testimony in opposition to these designations by anyone not on the town council or planning board. The hearings will be continued on August 5.