New Paltz Planning Board members discuss adding a second historic district

Village of New Paltz Planning Board members are very enthusiastic about the idea of adding a second historic district. If they had any criticism, it was that the proposed district isn’t nearly large enough to serve the needs of the community. Those board members learned about the proposal to be considered by Village trustees at their December 16 meeting, and quickly began suggesting ways to expand it.

The idea to add a second district comes from Historic Preservation commissioners and it begins with the district along Main Street that is registered at state and federal levels. For all the effort it takes to get such a listing, it provides no guarantee that the buildings making a district historic will stay that way. Protection comes only at the local level, in the form of a local historic district. The one on Huguenot Street actually predates the Commission which is charged with overseeing it and commissioners point to it as an example of what it’s like to live in such a district. Rather than imposing a personal sense of aesthetics on new construction or renovations, a consultation with commissioners is intended to make sure the visible, external changes are historically consistent with the neighborhood.

Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) Chair Tom Olsen stresses that this review is a “free consultation,” but it would also be mandatory in some cases. That means some projects won’t be approved as quickly, and that design changes might be needed to secure a Certificate of Compliance. Olsen made it clear during the presentation that these are issues that must be addressed if a second district is to be workable. Costly design changes should be avoidable by meeting with commissioners early in the process. Establishing criteria for projects that don’t need review will be necessary, too: Olsen said that the intent is to review projects that could have a significant impact. Laying out what doesn’t need to be looked at will be an important part of this work.

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Creating a new historic district is just the most recent approach to securing the input of the HPC commissioners on all planning applications. They feel that they have the knowledge to advise on how to make any new construction fit more harmoniously into the historic architecture along Main Street, and throughout the Village. Olsen hopes eventually to convince trustees to add “Design Review Board” to the Commission’s name and to develop a set of community-wide design standards. There are standards for some zones, but the hope is to develop something that is consistent throughout the village.

Planning Board members seemed to grasp the concept quickly, and recognize that this layer of review would address issues that are outside of their own powers. The building at 51 Main Street, for example, was approved not because board members at the time loved the look of it, but because it appeared to comply with zoning. Several members asked about including Elting Avenue in the proposed district. Board members were encouraged to put that enthusiasm in writing to the trustees who will consider this proposal.

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