The fate of a proposal to add three more cabins to Woodland Pond, a continuing care retirement community located in a remote corner of the Village of New Paltz, may hinge upon a site plan from 2007 — more than a year before the project was even approved. This draft site plan is important because the settlement of a lawsuit brought by environmentalists over how this massive project could impact a significant wetland contains references to “the April 2007 site plan,” yet there was no copy of that version in Village records. Local resident Daniel Schniedewind has produced what is claimed to be that very plan, which could be used to determine just how close to the wetland new cottages may be built. In the meantime, Michelle Gramoglia, CEO and president of the nonprofit, has begun offering concessions including curtailing the use of pesticide sprays and eliminating a lawn for one of the proposed cottages.
Environmentalists who brought the 2007 lawsuit were not impressed by the environmental review undertaken by Planning Board members, and sought to have the findings statement vacated and the entire review started over. The matter was deeply controversial, as it pitted concerns over wetlands that are seen as essential to an environment that is healthy for all beings against the challenge of caring for humans as they age, which in this country is most commonly accomplished through the only form of housing segregation that’s still legal, age. The settlement made it possible to move ahead without conducting a new environmental review, provided that the final site plan “includes at least as much wetland buffer as that shown on the April 2007” plan. As that critical document had gone missing, representatives of the corporation were free to speculate as to what that phrase might mean.
Presuming the document offered by Schniedewind is authentic, there may be some clarity as to the limits of development near this large wetland once it’s reviewed. Only the approved site plan was in the file, which for most applications would have been sufficient. The fact that a binding out-of-court settlement refers to an earlier version is an unusual, complicating factor, because those raising questions seem to feel that the earlier plan may include some details that will illuminate where building may and may not occur. The particular question that it’s hoped can be answered with the April 2007 plan is exactly how much wetland buffer there needs to be. Presuming that the final, filed plan did comply with that terms of the settlement, then it’s possible that Planning Board members may not get a clear answer, and will still have to decide based on the words in the settlement alone.
Describing the April 2007 plan, Schniedewind asserted that it proves one interpretation of the buffer isn’t possible. Woodland Pond board member Michael Zierler posited at an earlier meeting that the language referred to the conservation easement which is now in place on portions of the property, but Schniedewind said that the easement is not shown on that plan, and therefore cannot be construed as the wetland buffer. The easternmost of the three buildings “is clearly in the protected buffer,” Schniedewind said, and must be moved because according to the terms of the settlement, that buffer cannot be reduced.
Board member Rachel Lagodka offered another way forward. Noting that this wetland is the breeding area for the salamanders living in the Mill Brook Preserve — the construction of this facility being an important motivator for permanently protecting the rest of that undeveloped habitat — Lagodka suggested expanding a no-pesticide area to minimize harm. There is presently a single area where pesticides are not applied outdoors; residents requested a poison-free zone for the walking of dogs. Lagodka’s hope is to end the use of these pesticides at Woodland Pond entirely, but Gramoglia instead offered to extend that zone to include that side of the property. Gramoglia also agreed not to have a yard — which likely meant “lawn” in this context” — around the easternmost cottage.
When this application is on the agenda again, the recreation fee is to be set and the details of the April 2007 plan are to be discussed. As of this writing, that plan has not yet been posted on the Village website.