A long time ago, there was a lawsuit brought over plans to build a senior-citizen housing project in an environmentally sensitive part of the New Paltz community. The suit was brought by members of local activist groups over how environmental impacts were addressed during the original Village of New Paltz Planning Board review, which began in 2001. It’s coming up now because members of Woodland Pond’s Board of Directors are seeking to add three more lucrative cottages to the property, and concerns have been raised again about how construction will impact one of the most significant tracts of wetlands in all of New Paltz. The precise plan referenced in that stipulation of settlement has not yet been located, and asking those who were directly involved in the review isn’t an option. As board member Rachel Lagodka put it, “All those people are dead.”
Lagodka is someone who paid close attention to the project when it was being reviewed in decades past, as is Woodland Pond board member Michael Zierler, who didn’t have a formal relationship with that corporation in those days. Lagodka occasionally got into hot water for conducting unauthorized site visits, and reporting back on violations, during construction of a project that some critics have sardonically called “Wetland Pond.” Zierler appears to have worked in some unspecified way with various stakeholder groups to try to pave the way for this high-end development and care facility for senior citizens. Zierler and Lagodka also have in common service on this Planning Board in the years since, with Zierler serving as chair for a period of time in the last decade and Lagodka being appointed more recently. It appears that Zierler’s appointment to the Woodland Pond board took place after leaving the Village’s Planning Board, but the biographical data on the Woodland Pond site are not specific on that point.
What’s important about the specific plan referenced in the stipulation of settlement is that it’s likely the only authority on how close to the wetland any construction might take place. As Zierler is quick to point out, there is no Village law protecting wetlands with any kind of buffer. Lagodka has a different take, pointing out that the environmental value of wetlands is settled science and that this should be considered, “whether or not there’s a law.” In particular, Lagodka is looking for assurances that an old-fashioned lawn won’t be installed behind the cottage that seems to be closest to the sensitive wetland area. A review by Village engineers — which included reading the settlement, but not looking at that elusive written plan — determined that no violation of local law or the settlement would result from this plan as proposed.
Lagodka alleged that “clear-cutting” has taken place already, leading Zierler and other Woodland Pond representatives to shirk decorum by interrupting the appointed board member with denials. Zach Bialecki affirmed that trees had been killed and removed, but added, “I wouldn’t call it ‘clear-cutting’.” Chair John Litton wanted to see the area personally before forming an opinion on that point. When Lagodka suggested that no lawn be installed, and further urged the Woodland Pond representatives to extend a policy of not using pesticides in certain areas to cover the entire property, no comments were made in response.
The area of disturbance on the plans is carefully calculated to be nine-tenths of an acre, just shy of being large enough to trigger a more detailed storm water pollution prevention plan.
If approved, it’s expected that these new cabins will comply with “stretch” energy code requirements, ensuring that they are as energy efficient as possible. County Planning Board members did not require that the cottages comply, but did require that a thoughtful conversation about the subject be conducted.
A hearing on this application has been scheduled to begin June 7. In the meantime, there are a lot of boxes of old Woodland Pond files that need to be searched.
Other applications reviewed
There were several other applications reviewed at the Village of New Paltz Planning Board meeting on Tuesday, May 3:
Leaders of the Discovery Institute on Plains Road have returned after a year to revisit a complex subdivision application to allow for one of the four houses on that single lot to be sold. The remaining issues before this can be approved involve verifying certain easements and adjusting the proposed lot lines to avoid creating additional encroachments be leaving buildings closer to those lines than is allowed per the Village code.
The application to establish an open-air cafe at 5 Plattekill Avenue — this being the building tucked in back by the Village parking lot which has most recently been used as a smoke shop, and before that a Laundromat — was approved. Owner Brian Keenan expressed appreciation.
Another plan would site a new smoke shop between Starbucks and McGillicuddy’s in 450 square feet along Main Street. The applicants are seeking to expand a New York City-based business with this foothold location in New Paltz. The products would primarily be hemp and CBD vape products, supplemented by “exotic” varieties of beverages and snack foods, which were described as flavors difficult to find away from that large urban area to the south.
New owners of 42 South Chestnut Street wish to replace the harrowing two-car parking area with a larger area on Mohonk Avenue. The old driveway would be abandoned in favor of this new lot, which would be large enough under the current zoning code.