The consultants on the long-reviewed and much-maligned Trans-Hudson project got hung up on windows during the November 22 Town of New Paltz Planning Board meeting. The new hangup is a direct result of developers seeking and securing — much to the consternation of environmental commissioners, among others — a variance of what’s considered a key element of the zoning now in effect in this gateway area of Town: the requirement that buildings must be at least two stories. The same code also requires windows on the first floor to be at least half of the front of the building, but complying with this design standard that evidently few people involved in this reviewed even noticed would require big changes to the look of these buildings.
The four buildings which are now proposed to be constructed on this site, which is a narrow strip between the Thruway and North Putt Corners Road, are in a “colonial” style according to the developer’s architect; and the one hired as a Town consultant agrees with that assessment. To an untrained eye, they appear to be somewhat unimaginative beige boxes with small accents near the roof line as a nod to the historic character of many downtown buildings, but several board members find them to be attractive. The four buildings are intended both to reflect downtown architecture and each other, but without an architecture degree it may be easier to see that the latter is true than the former. They are all also just a single story tall; members of the Zoning Board of Appeals saw fit to toss out the two-story-minimum requirement that is a signature caveat of modern zoning in nearby communities such as Lloyd and New Paltz’s Village, intended to create a more classic downtown feel while at the same time reducing the historic housing crisis. Related to that requirement is one that calls for large windows, such as the ones on the Main Street Bistro and other historic buildings. Board member Amanda Gotto raised the tiny windows in the current plan as a problem, as apparently none of the Town consultants read the code closely enough to see it, and the developer’s architect evidently interpreted it differently.
Consultants for Trans-Hudson complained that such large windows are not in keeping with a colonial style, and some board members rallied behind them. Adele Ruger and Jane Schanberg were especially supportive, with Ruger expressing support for the overall design, and Schanberg opining that board members “can’t be that rigid” in enforcing the code. On the other hand, Gotto and Amy Cohen were tepid at best. Cohen, who has long worked in and owned retail businesses, called the proposed windows “tiny” and unsuitable for any sort of product display. Other parts of the facade were called out as looking like one of those two-dimensional false-front “old west” town sets. It was also pointed out that the large windows might not seem as out of place, but for the insistence only to have a single story for each of the buildings.
Despite Schanberg’s call to lose rigidity, board attorney Rick Golden pointed out that being on a Planning Board means being as rigid as is required in the code. In this case, that means that granting a waiver on window size would require a unanimous vote by board members, else it would be referred to Town Council members for a decision. Instead, Planning Board members punted by agreeing to ask one of the Town’s building inspectors, Stacy Delarede, to interpret the code, which could mean that applying for a waiver will be unnecessary.
Also related to this project, a public hearing will be opened December 2 on the question of whether to ask Village trustees to allow this project to be hooked up to municipal water. Some Town residents are already looking for that request to be denied, which is how another controversial project — Walmart, in the 1990s — was halted despite support by some Planning Board members at the time. Concerns about running the Empire State Trail through a vegetative buffer intended to serve as a shield against Thruway noise and air pollution — thanks to another interpretation of the code by Delarede — and how bicyclists and pedestrians will safely get past the site if there’s an automobile entrance from Route 299 are the most commonly-cited concerns at this time.