New Paltz Village planning board members are proving their dedication to their community as they dig into the mammoth task of undertaking an environmental review of the New Paltz Apartments project, which if approved in its present form would result in rental rooms for 650 being built on some 60 acres directly south of the college campus along Route 32. Four of the five unpaid volunteers spent more than two hours of their July 6 meeting going over the scoping document, which will be the guide for what’s studied and how.
As is typical of any process largely governed by attorneys, only what’s committed to writing will carry any weight when it comes to this environmental review. Veteran planning attorney Michael Moriello is the applicant here, and agreed quickly to preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for this large project. The purpose of an EIS is to ensure that all potential environmental damage is studied, with an eye on “mitigating” that harm. What actually gets studied is the scope, and because the content of EIS is entirely dependent on the scoping document, there will be a public hearing on all of those details on July 20.
Technically, drafting the scope falls to Planning Board members, but in practice it’s the applicant’s consultants who take first crack at it. That’s what happened here, and that’s why those board members spent a considerable amount of time discussing the specifics. The draft will be modified based on comments received from board members at this meeting, and then members of the public get to have their say.
Not every idea for study was given equal weight during the meeting. While chair John Litton readily agreed that expanding study into wetland impacts was warranted, not every traffic proposal was given equal weight. For example, while the purpose of this process is to understand wide-ranging environmental impacts for the entire community, Litton rejected any study of pedestrian connectivity to the adjacent Harvest Hills development simply because most of the current residents have expressed worries about college students roaming their neighborhood; if that decision stands, then a couple dozen people have in effect been given veto power over even studying that option in a community where the stated values include increasing the ability of residents to move around without cars in order to reduce environmental impacts of daily life. In a society that is still auto-centric, it’s also more challenging to study the movements of large groups of pedestrians, such as the ones that occur around the time bars close in New Paltz, to understand if those movements will impact anyone in the intervening neighborhoods. If there is a way to study the movement of late-night revelers, such an analysis will have to be suggested at the public hearing if it’s to be included in the scope at all.
Walking did interest board members in regard to how it might impact car traffic through the intersections at both ends of Jansen Road. The longer the walk from this development to the downtown district, board members believe, the most likely those residents will pile into cars to see a band and hoist a few. Impacts on motorized traffic are easier to study, because there are years of predictive modeling that professionals rely on to write those reports. The initial proposal would use commuter traffic only to make those predictions, but it was suggested that the autumn tourist traffic be reviewed as well. Jansen Road is used by knowledgeable residents as a bypass around the slow traffic on Main Street that occurs on those busy weekends.
Traffic is not the only areas to be studied, but it’s one that generated discussion at the meeting. After changes are made to the document, it’s to be made available for members of the public to review at least a week ahead of the July 20 hearing.