For the second straight meeting of the Village of New Paltz Planning Board, neighbors of a proposed residential project shared concerns about its impact on the surrounding community. That was twice too many for Planning Board member Rich Souto, who asked that local residents try and stick to the facts rather than making assumptions.
“I feel compelled to make a comment about the comments, and comments that were shared in the prior meeting,” Souto said during the Planning Board meeting held on Wednesday, July 5. “This is obviously a public board of volunteers, and we are an instrument through which these plans for our village come.”
A handful of local residents addressed the board with concerns over a proposal at 43 Center Street, which would see an existing single-family home demolished with a five-bedroom, three-bathroom single-family home with five parking spaces built in its place. Neighbors shared similar concerns to those expressed by other local residents during a Planning Board meeting held on Tuesday, June 20.
At that meeting, residents focused their attention on a proposal by Prospect Estates, LLC for significant work on adjoining properties at 5 and 7 Prospect Street: The former would include the demolition of a single-family home to be replaced by a two-family dwelling, the latter would see an addition built onto an existing single-family home for conversion into a two-family home. Neighbors suggested both proposals were exploiting a zoning loophole for an area that sits at the line of the B-2 (Core Business) and R-2 (Residential) districts, with the former allowing for three bedrooms of unrelated occupants in each single-family dwelling to rent individual rooms to students attending SUNY New Paltz.
In that instance, neighbors further lamented that the character of their neighborhood might be irreparably damaged by the proposed work.
“The neighbors know one another and one another’s children,” said local resident Alison Nash of the neighborhood surrounding the work proposed by Prospect Estates. “It is such long-term residents who create an active and rich community life.”
Nash said that two other properties on Prospect have already been converted by Prospect Estates for such use, with the planned addition of ten bedrooms to their existing 17 and accompanying parking spaces “an increase in density of 58 percent,” and an increase in the number of residents since the departure of the previous owners of 5 and 7 Prospect of 245 percent.
“The proposed development with its preponderance of rental by the rooms will adversely affect the character of the neighborhood, devalue my property and create many nuisance factors,” Nash said. “As we all know, a house with nine room rentals is likely to be college students and can bring much noise.”
Last week, Souto suggested that anyone hoping to facilitate changes in zoning codes share their thoughts with the Village Board of Trustees rather than the Planning Board, which is largely responsible for reviewing applications against existing codes and has no authority to change them.
“Public comment, generally and specifically about applications is a really important process when we are considering applications,” Souto said. “I’m encouraging everyone who brings comments to the meeting to make comments about the plan and the code and the application, and its details and its applicability with regard to the code.”
Souto said he felt compelled to address the issue in the wake of two straight meetings where many public comments focused on areas outside of the purview of the Planning Board. He added that “There’s a lot of inference and a lot of subjectivity to the way some of the comments are framed,” Souto said. “And, in fact, in last meeting’s comments, there was more conversation about people and the suspicion of the people that might occupy these proposed plans as opposed to the plan, and whether that plan conforms to the village code…I want to make sure that I’m really clear and correct in saying that we’re not here to question the occupants of these proposed plans and applications, but we’re here to review the applications with regard to the code. And I would ask that we be really thoughtful as a community and as contributors to this dialogue in making that distinction when you bring your comments to this board.”
Fellow Board member Zack Bialecki agreed.
“That’s an important distinction to make,” Bialecki said.
The next meeting of the Village of New Paltz Planning Board is scheduled for Tuesday, July 18.