A public hearing related to the plans to build a government operations center off Paradies Lane in New Paltz was opened at the February 16 town council meeting. This particular hearing addresses a small sliver of the entire process, specifically whether this county project should be subject to local zoning or not. Some of the testimony was on that narrow question, but residents also addressed broader issues. There was general agreement about the need for larger, more modern facilities, but not everyone is convinced that legislators chose wisely in agreeing to buy this land and remove it from the tax rolls.
County officials and consultants reiterated what was said at the January 5 meeting about these plans. For starters, while 911 calls were up 10% last year alone, there’s no room to add more operators in the squat brick house where those calls are now answered in the county’s existing emergency 911 center at Golden Hill in Kingston. In 2022, there were about 98,000 emergency calls and nearly 58,000 administrative calls routed through the dispatch center. There’s only space for eight emergency operators plus two administrators, and county officials are increasingly concerned that this will lead to life-threatening delays. The former Plesser property is suitable for building a new center, largely because it will be possible to have redundant systems in place to ensure electricity and internet connection are not interrupted. It’s also near several major roads, which means anyone heading out to lend aid during a disaster would have options if one of those was blocked.
Only about six of 57.3 acres will be used for this project, but that will be spacious enough to have room for ten dispatchers, two supervisors, three trainees and a trainer. What’s more, county officials recognize that this is an opportunity to consolidate all emergency oversight and response under one roof. The floor plans show space for an emergency operations center, command room, conference rooms, space for maintenance and equipment storage, space for computer servers and mechanical systems and legacy-style gendered bathrooms and changing areas. The 16,000 square feet would make this slightly larger than the new firehouse on North Putt Corners Road in new Paltz. As the site is adjacent to the Thruway, there’s even potential for quick deployment of personnel via direct access to that highway — but no one at the Thruway Authority has approved that request quite yet. The one-story building would be crowned with solar panels to provide some power and grounded with geothermal wells for heating and cooling. Outside, an 82-foot buffer would be maintained for security.
The pitch to avoid local zoning was also part of the presentation. There is a test that’s applied in these cases, to balance the right of members of the public to have their say against the risk that the different layers of bureaucracy resulting in needless delays and expense. Dennis Doyle, director of planning for the county, surmised incorrectly that a similar test was applied for the construction of the new firehouse; it was not, because that project was for a village firehouse on village-owned property within village limits. It is the same test that was applied when it came to expanding the county veterans cemetery on Plains Road; while both village and town officials agreed to cede their authority in that case, neighbors have since raised concerns about intrusive lighting that otherwise would have been addressed in local planning board meetings. The promise is that this new government operations center would be “sympathetic” to the gateway zoning that’s in place, but that zoning requires buildings with a minimum of two floors that include residential apartments up above. The current plans show a single-story building, and at the January 5 meeting, Doyle expressed a desire to “control future neighbors,” presumably as part of security concerns for this facility.
Information about the project is now being posted at ulstercountyny.gov/ucgopctr.
Janelle Peotter focused on expanding efforts toward building a structure that has a low carbon impact, suggesting electric vehicle chargers, sheltered bicycle parking, solar canopies, no-mow grasses and green cement. Among those ideas, charging stations would be required if local zoning was applied, and planning board members could negotiate to add some of those others if they were to review this as an application.
Others asked about the wisdom of removing this sizable lot from the tax rolls, in a community that has a considerable amount of land already exempt — largely because of the college. Siting this center on either the New Paltz or Ulster SUNY campuses was raised, or even on the large parcel of county land by the fairgrounds, but none of the officials at the table during this hearing had any say over the decision to buy this land; county legislators have already voted to purchase this tract. Based on the information provided, the site selection process — which likely did include some of the same county planning officials present during this hearing — did not include any consideration of whether the parcel was already public land or not.
Members of Ulster Activists have supported this project out of an understanding that it will result in some of the land being used for affordable housing, and made it clear that they support zoning immunity only to secure more housing. County officials have carefully crafted a plan that does not include any development of the 21 acres they say could be dedicated to a different use, and that includes making any public pronouncements about how it may be used. The southern portion of this tract is wetter, and that has contributed to controversy over some of the earlier ideas for how to build on this former apple orchard. Questions about addressing the toxic soils often resulting from intensive orchard use were also raised.
Members of the council withdrew later in the meeting for a discussion in executive session and decided to hold this hearing open rather than making an immediate decision.