Members of the Ulster County Planning Board aren’t impressed by the North Putt retail project’s proposed appearance and have suggested a second look at the design. When Town of New Paltz Planning Board members met on December 13, most of them didn’t see the problem that their colleagues from around the county did.
Comprised of appointees from the various municipalities in the county, this board is empowered to review projects that may have an impact on the county as a whole. The result of this review may include advisory opinions or required changes; the former may be ignored without difficulty, but the latter must be imposed unless members of the local planning board overrides with a 60% majority vote. A change calling for a clear maintenance plan for the section of the Empire State Trail to run through the site was made mandatory, but the opinion about the architecture was not.
The crux of the advisory opinion was that it’s not clear how the design elements of this project in any way identify this project as connected to New Paltz as a whole, , as opposed to being part and parcel of an “everywhere-USA commercial corridor.”
Some New Paltz Planning Board members seemed mystified by this response. Adele Ruger, the chair, compared the current version to what was proposed eight years ago and finds the current proposal much more appealing. Jane Schanberg, who previously argued against imposing some zoning standards because they appear to have been intended for Victorian-style buildings rather than the ones now proposed, found it “unfortunate” that the recommendation was not more specific. Member Jennifer Welles agreed with the assessment that these buildings are uninspired, but appeared to be alone in that assessment. The design has been hashed out with the assistance of an architect hired to advise board members. The same professional weighed in on the look of McDonald’s, ensuring that the remodeled restaurant has its present appearance. Unlike that project, which is largely shades of grey, this one leans toward ecru and tan.
Board members also learned about how the developers wish to address traffic backups. The proposal being considered involves a longer left-turn bay on that street, as well as tinkering with the timing of the lights.
Controversial water district extension granted for North Putt retail project
Supervisor Neil Bettez observed at the December 16 Town Council meeting that it’s unusual for a request to extend a water or sewer district to get any attention at all, much less people testifying over two sessions of a public hearing. It’s not unusual for the North Putt retail project in general, since the proposal that’s been called both the “CVS” and “Trans-Hudson” project over the years — referencing a prospective corporate tenant and the name of the original corporate applicant, respectively — has been dogged by aspects opposed to it in whole or in part since the original version was filed in 2013. After listening to that second night of testimony, and discussing the question among themselves, council members voted four-to-one in favor of granting extensions to both water and sewer districts to encompass the property bounded by the Thruway, Route 299 and North Putt Corners Road.
Most of those testifying wanted a different outcome. Relying on the understanding that council members had to consider the public interest of these extensions, they spoke not only about questions of sewer-treatment capacity, but also concerns about how the design will impact safety for bicyclists and pedestrians on their way downtown, the vehicular backups projected to extend 300 feet up North Putt Corners Road, and how those backups might impact emergency services — all of which are, or soon will be, just up the road from this intersection. They called on council members to turn this down in the same spirit with which this entire area was rezoned a few years ago. That new zoning is why the current project is about half the size of the original proposal, and it’s why the decision-makers at CVS pulled out; that corporate model calls for larger stores than this zoning would allow.
Julie Seyfert-Lillis cast the lone vote against, echoing the solitary dissent of Michele Zipp on the Village Board when this matter was raised there. It needed approval in the Village because these districts are interdependent and centered around Village infrastructure. Other than Zipp, the other trustees were satisfied accepting $200,000 from the developer to be used to improve those systems. Chris Marx, who oversees town water and sewer systems, testified during the hearing that any improvements lift up the entire system.
The reason for this full-court press is the belief that a rejection now would force the developer to redesign differently and then try again. Bettez is afraid it might not go that way. Instead, the supervisor imagines that a new plan might depend on wells and septic fields, leaving little money — or room — for the Empire State Trail, along with amenities such as parking and bathrooms. Bettez also questioned how this could be rushed, since the documents were provided to council members over a month ago.
Seyfert-Lillis didn’t even want to close the public hearing and agreed with those who said that this process felt rushed. That reticence was at first matched by fellow council member Alexandra Baer, who lamented how this site design appears to be focused on Thruway traffic and disconnected from the larger community. “It’s still a strip mall,” Baer observed. During the discussion, however, Baer came to agree with the majority, who felt that this vote should be based on narrow criteria around water and sewer. The particulars should be addressed at Planning Board meetings, by that thinking, and likely that’s where these activists will now focus their attention.