Opponents come out against water hookup for development on North Putt Corners Road

Many people may be aware that the name of Facebook, Inc. was changed to “Meta” in October. Some observers noted that the move, coming soon after a wave of scandals, appeared to be an attempt to confuse members of the public. A name-switch that’s occurred locally may not be as familiar to readers. During the public hearing on extending a water district to include what’s sometimes called the “Trans-Hudson project” at 12 North Putt Corners Road in New Paltz, it was revealed that the corporate entity serving as the petitioner is BFB New Paltz, LLC. That’s the corporate entity listed as owner of the property since 2017, based on a contract that was signed in 2012 — before this project was ever publicly discussed. That’s not to say that Trans-Hudson Management isn’t still on the paperwork for the Planning Board application to erect four single-story commercial buildings at the nexus of North Putt Corners Road, Route 299 and the Thruway, but it does mean that using a corporate name as shorthand for this project may make it more difficult to follow the process. This reporter will use “North Putt retail project” going forward.

While only five people testified during the hearing, one of those read a letter signed by 39 residents. The theme of the testimony was focused on Town Council members’ obligation to find that extending this water district would be in the public interest, followed by a list of reasons why those residents feel that it is not. High among these are the proposed entrance to the site from Route 299, which would necessitate removing a barrier that shields pedestrians and bicyclists from automotive traffic to allow drivers to cross over the bicycle lane. While the proposed site plan has the Empire State Trail (EST) routed through the site and up Putt Corners Road, opponents of this design believe that there will still be a good many people traveling down Main Street into the Village core — and that their lives will be at risk should the plan be approved in this form. It’s true that the driveway has yet to be approved by state transportation officials, but local leaders have frequently criticized local DOT representatives for an auto-focused philosophy that is evident in repeated denials of requests for more crosswalks and lower speed limits along Route 299 through Town. It’s also true that Planning Board members don’t have to approve a plan with that driveway even if that approval is granted, but the worry is that if state officials give the green light, then Town volunteers will likely follow suit.

Former Village trustee Don Kerr testified that the capacity of the Village’s wastewater treatment plant should be considered. Kerr asserted that former mayors Tom Nyquist and Jason West, bitter political opponents, but reported that capacity at that plant “kept them up at night.”

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Another point of contention is exactly how the EST is to be routed through the site. It’s going right through the middle of the vegetative buffer that’s called for in the zoning, intended to provide some protection from the noise and air pollution coming off the Thruway. Advocates for a different plan say that there is room for the trail without gutting the buffer, but building inspector Stacy Delarede’s interpretation is that since pavement isn’t specifically prohibited in a vegetative buffer, that this would be acceptable. Members of the Town’s Environmental Commission appealed that determination via the Zoning Board of Appeals, and as a result, Delarede modified the interpretation to clarify that Planning Board members still have the final say. In a social media thread, Planning Board member Jane Schanberg referred to the appeal as an attempt to “usurp” the process, and also called Delarede’s knowledge “encyclopedic,” suggesting how one board member may eventually vote on that question.

It appears that this project is dependent on the water hookup, and those who testified said that denying the connection would encourage the developers to reconsider the project design. While many changes have come about since this application was first filed in 2013, developers have resisted fully complying with the new zoning that was passed for this area in a number of ways. There was a lawsuit, which is technically still pending; the aforementioned interpretation to allow a paved trail in the middle of a vegetative buffer; and the successful bid to secure a variance from the requirement that buildings in this zone be at least two stories tall and include residential units above the commercial uses. Advocates for blocking the water connection see this as a way to revisit some of those decisions.

Chris Marx, who oversees the Town’s water system, pointed out that a possible outcome of approving this connection would be to get the developer to pay for extra piping to connect two dead-end lines and create a loop. The concept of a water loop is one that the Village’s mayor, Tim Rogers, holds in high regard. Dead-end water mains result in lower pressure and higher incidents of brown water for the users in that area. Getting a loop paid for with private money would be beneficial, feels Marx.

Rogers, along with trustees of the Village Board, must decide on this request to extend the water district before members of the Town Council may act upon it. That’s because even the parts of the system outside of the Village limits connect to the Village system. The matter has not yet been placed on a Village Board agenda.

Supervisor Neil Bettez, reached after this meeting, reiterated the position that the best way to preserve open space in the Town is to develop in core areas, such as along the state roads.

Police commission transition

There are now seven applicants for five seats on the Town of New Paltz’s Police Commission. Supervisor Neil Bettez has proposed staggering appointments, both to ensure a smooth transition from Town Council members to volunteers, and also in the hope that this will encourage more Town residents to apply once they see what’s actually involved. In particular, the supervisor suggested adding one new member a month. It wasn’t clear if all of the seven candidates would be interviewed before the appointments began, or if some applicants may not get interviewed at all. Under Bettez’s plan, the interviews would begin in January.

Julie Seyfert-Lillis thought that allowing the new members to work together sooner might lead to the Commission being fully functional sooner, rather than later. As a compromise, David Brownstein suggested seating two or three members in the first month, and committing to finishing the appointments within four or five months.

— Terence P Ward