Radi Serdah has been trying to do something new with the property at 85 North Chestnut Street in New Paltz for many years. When the property owner first applied to change things up, Serdah didn’t know about the Neighborhood-Business-Residential (NBR) zoning rules that require buildings to have at least two stories, with apartments above business uses. With that in mind, Serdah has engaged professionals to come up with a design that doesn’t just comply with the zoning, but would serve as a transition between the houses-cum-offices to the south and Zero Place directly north of the site. That involves putting a number of peaks in the roof line to echo the smaller old houses on a structure that’s not quite as large as the net-zero-energy building — because trustees scaled back on the density — promoting fourth floor in the zoning as a result of that approval. Including those peaks, though, means that Serdah isn’t going to see this project approved for at least a few more months.
The proposal would site a three-story building on the lot, one that’s broken up by the varied roof height to seem more like five attached buildings than a single structure. There would be 15 apartments on the upper floors and four retail spots at ground level. The amount of pavement would be reduced and per NBR requirements, landscaping and street furnishings would be added.
In what some might classify as a “no good deed goes unpunished” moment, those roof peaks are six or seven inches above the maximum height allowed, after trustees voted three to two to knock it back to three floors back in 2018. This is to better match the pitch of nearby rooftops, but that means a variance is required, and under state law the members of the Zoning Board of Appeals can’t act until the environmental review started for the Planning Board application is completed. It’s a review that would have to be done regardless, but Planning Board members eager to get this project off their docket had to be reined in by their attorney, lest they fail to take the required “hard look” at all the circumstances.
What’s clear is that the presence of Zero Place has changed how some people look at the context. When that multi-use building — now being built just across Mulberry Street from this site — was under review, it was generally agreed that it was out of character with most everything around it. That’s because it was the first major project proposed under NBR zoning. For Serdah’s unnamed proposal, board members used Zero Place as evidence that the project is, in fact, consistent with the neighborhood. The fact that it would be visible from nearby aesthetic resources such as Historic Huguenot Street also wasn’t considered significant, given the presence of Zero Place and the large new Stewart’s nearby. From long and detailed review of Zero Place, board members understood that this site is not “substantially contiguous” with those historic stone houses, which would also entail more detailed review.
There was some interest around the board table in presuming that traffic impacts won’t be much, because there is now a traffic light by Stewart’s, but attorney Rick Golden was quick to quash a vote based on feelings. State law requires a hard look, Golden explained, and a hard look must be based on hard data. That means a traffic study must be prepared. Since that’s the most noteworthy issue outstanding, board members agreed to hold off determining environmental significance until a study can be conducted. That could mean that Serdah will be able to avoid preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) — assuming that the plans can be adapted to mitigate whatever that traffic study may reveal, at least. Board members can still require an EIS if they are unsatisfied with the answers provided.