Public comments about Park Point

A giant (20 buildings, 50 acres [8 acres of development]) development of student housing is coming to New Paltz. Info on it is here—scroll down to the bottom of the page, to Public Notices. (And yes, why isn’t my name listed as an alternate? I don’t think I really am an alternate, I think they’re just humoring me by telling me I am. However, I am younger than them all, so someday when they need people of my generation to be on the PB, there I will be, having gone to every meeting for the last decade! Good times, I tell you!)

Here’s my public comment about the project, which is of course solely my opinion, not that of a [quasi]alternate on the Planning Board.

Also below is my friend Rachel’s comment. Lots of good info in there!

My comment:

I have been following the proposed Park Point development with interest. As an avid environmentalist and open-space advocate as well as a small business owner and homeowner, I feel I have an interest on both sides of this project: I welcome new projects coming to town that could lower my obscene property taxes, and I know New Paltz is growing and needs sustainable and sustaining housing for increased residents.

Perhaps Park Point could be as asset to this town with major changes, but it seems to me that in its current incarnation, it will be an eyesore and potential environmental hazard that will not lower taxes at much, if it all.

I have several concerns:

—In 2011, when all government buildings are required to be built to LEED certification (and when this project is only private because of a technicality), it seems absurd that this development is being proposed with almost no environmental building aspects taken into account. It has been proven over and over that green infrastructure need not be substantially more expensive. I know at one meeting the developers mentioned they were building to a different environmental standard (maybe ENC? I didn’t quite catch it at the meeting), but I don’t understand why they are not building to a LEED standard, at a minimum.

—If these buildings are cheaply constructed, which it looks like they are to be, there is a concern that they will persistently out-gas potentially toxic chemicals. This, combined with the fact that project is being built on a former non-organic orchard (and since construction can redistribute and bring to the surface pesticides, it is especially dangerous), as well as that the project is planning on using pesticides and herbicides for landscaping, mean that the buildings will be potentially unsafe to breathe in from the get-go—bucolic vistas and preserved wetlands or not. New Paltz residents are clearly concerned with the level of these dangerous chemicals in our shared air. Could we require the use of only organic weed-control solutions and building materials that are proven safe, as well as independent pesticide testing so we can understand what’s currently in the soil?

–At a Planning Board meeting, Board member Peter Muller mentioned a proposed conservation easement that would ensure that the open space not being developed would remain open. The developers stated this would be difficult, but it does seem like a community benefit that would make granting a PUD easier [PUD is a Planned Use Development–look at me, throwing around terminology!].

–The proposed buildings look flimsy and unappealing, and will only add a cookie-cutter, ticky-tacky negative image to a town that prides itself on architectural integrity and pleasantness. Inexpensive housing (which I’m not sure this is?) need not be charmless. The proposed buildings are not within the town’s commitment to community character, which was a focus of our recent Master Plan.

–I know that in the recent Master Plan this area was slated for more development, but the town needs to focus on building up, not out. Fewer, taller buildings would contribute less of a footprint and maintain more open space (I know that a PUD allows up to five stories), which New Paltz residents consistently state over and over is one of their prime concerns and reasons for living in the area. I drive past the proposed Park Point spot once a week or so, and my eye is soothed by the tangled nothingness of the current spot. A sprawl of 20 buildings will be quite a devastating change.

–I have been to every Planning Board meeting about this project (and have listened to an awful lot of gossip about it as well) and I am still completely confused about both the water and tax situations. If it’s true that in 10 or however many years the lease will revert to the SUNY foundation and thus the town will receive no tax revenue, it seems obvious that the project must be denied. Why should hardworking New Paltz residents pay (in taxes for shared services as well as quality of life concerns) for a private foundation to make money? At least in that case the housing should be extremely affordable, so that people of all income levels can live there. I’m all for everyone paying their fair share of taxes (us middle class homeowners feel the pain of it every year when our tax bill arrives), and if Park Point is using an absurd loophole to avoid paying their fair share, I don’t see why we should allow this development in our town.

–Several people have brought up the issue of how far this project truly is from both the SUNY campus and the town. Walking into downtown New Paltz from Park Point in February will not be an appetizing prospect to most residents. As one citizen mentioned at a public hearing, it would be great if cars were deemphasized by having less than one parking spot per apartment (I believe right now is it right at the code: .75 spots per bed), paying for parking, and/or providing shared cars (many Manhattan buildings provide residents with Zipcars they can borrow by the hour), shuttle stops, and shared bikes as well as a focus on bike lanes and bike-friendly transportation.

–In addition, as noted by many residents at public hearings, this does not seem to truly be a “mixed-use” development since it’s almost all residential housing, and does not provide a community benefit (which a PUD requires). Could some small businesses rent space as well, perhaps providing groceries or other services so that residents wouldn’t need to constantly drive all around town?

In my view, in its current incarnation this project fails on every level to be something New Paltzians would want in their town: it’s a ticky-tacky development that looks to be flimsily and unimaginatively constructed with potentially dangerous materials that will eat up a vast tract of open space and provide no true benefit to the town in terms of tax revenue, aesthetic beauty, innovative design, services, or businesses. Without vast changes, I don’t see how it can be a project we would be proud to have in our town.



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Rachel Lagodka’s scoping questions and comments for Park Point:
1) All the trainings i have gone to over the last 7 years or so by the DEC and CRREO recommend starting with existing conditions and considering the environment and alternatives to fossil fuels from the ground up. Talks about this development were going on for 2 years without involving either the town ECB or the village EnCC, with insignificant attention to this idea. Therefore it might be best to start over, rather than try to talk about putting solar panels on McTownhouses.
The whole idea of “traditional” has been floating about in New Paltz but it is out-dated and unscientific. You can’t imitate the village in any convincing way and it makes no sense to try.
It would be better to have a tradition, especially adjacent to a college campus of innovation and problem solving rather than a vain attempt at style.
We have a directive from the government to reduce our carbon footprint and an obligation to the students from the college to move forward. I think this makes it important to demand the most advanced, most efficient eco-friendly technology for this  development—otherwise, especially since the planning process will be lengthy, the building will be outdated before it’s even built. The the look and siting have to incorporate the function, especially in terms of solar power.
Tradition is for preserving history. But a new building project is a tremendous opportunity for innovation, especially for a SUNY that is supposed to be so much improved.
I’m not talking about LEEDS. That is just a better make of the same bad model. I’m talking zero net energy. A large scale development like this is the best chance we have of moving forward away from fossil fuel consumption as that is where we know we need to go because oil is a finite resource whose extraction is destroying our planet.
2) I would like a better understanding of how the taxes are going to work.
Because of the desperate situation with the village in terms of the high tax burden, there is the crucial need to ensure that developments relieve rather than increase New Paltzers’ taxes.
I would like to hear a disinterested expert’s opinion of the deal with the taxes. I want to know more about the financial relationship in general. I guess this is a kind of way for SUNY to get dorms without having to pay for the construction. And I guess in return they let a private developer profit off the students and the developer just has to make a payment instead of being charged taxes. This does not sound good for the community. It is crucial for the the community to closely examine any question of letting any business operate on property that is off the tax rolls, or allowed to be off the tax rolls in x number of years. We already have SUNY itself and Woodland Pond, off the tax rolls and using village services.
3) I want to understand all the facts about the effect the exodus of 720 students would have on the village. I want to know how much rent the developer is going to be charging. Will this project bring rents down? I feel like not enough attention is paid to the economic factors. Woodland Pond is only half full and the local elderly who were supposed to be able to sell their houses so they could afford to more there now find that they can’t. The developer painted a rosy picture; think twice before you believe it again. There are 5 dorms that are depicted on the SUNY master plan surrounding the south western pond of the gunk. How much housing do we really need?
4) How can we best cause the development not to increase traffic? What’s the best way to connect to 208? Should Cross Creek Road be connected? My feeling is that you would want the students to walk diagonally across campus to the village. Fewer parking spaces will discourage car ownership and therefore have a smaller impact on traffic. The development should cut at least half of the parking and the surfaces should be at least semi-permeable
5) The land goes back to being owned by the state after 10 or 50 years ?(I heard both :))
So the land temporarily is not owned by the state while the development gets put in?
Who owns the buildings when the land goes back to the state?
6) What pesticides are currently being used on the pear orchard and other active orchards on or around the property? Can we have independent tests of the soil? The EAF indicates “yes” for the use of pesticides and herbicides. The landscaping plan should be designed to use neither, especially for the health of the students who are of reproductive age and the ecology of the nearby wetlands. There is no provision on the plan for people to grow their own vegetables. Rather than have the buildings surround a parking lot, try this: Garden Block
7) About the view shed. Please fly colored balloons indicating various heights and do it early so people have time to think about it
8) I know that there is no law that will compel you to do it, but for the sake of the community and the quality of the construction, it makes sense for you to consider a request that you hire only local labor for the job. I think that was an important lesson that should have been learned from Woodland Pond, a local construction company would not have caused that amount of damage or made that many mistakes with impunity.


5 Responses to “Public comments about Park Point”

  1. Anthony Aebi

    I am doing a zero energy development in the Village of New Paltz and if this project is being considered I would be interested in bidding on it and/or helping its design be for zero energy and can show that it would be cheaper to go that way then any other. They can speak with people that bought zero energy homes and find out how much cheaper it ended up being. I do it because it is practical and better construction with less up keep and the found out after that it was also less expensive.

    • lagusta

      Yeah! I’d send your info and interest to the Planning Board secretary, . Thanks for the great info!!

  2. Elizabeth

    This is fascinating. I was on the Park Board of my hometown (a suburb of Seattle) for a long time, and helped master plan their downtown. I tried to get on the Planning Board but I moved away before a spot opened up. We fought with this issue constantly. Business versus the people. LEED certification versus cost efficiency. Progress versus character. It’s an endless debate and the right answer is the one that no one ever goes with.

    The answer is to give the people what they want, at the (reasonable) expense of business, because it is people who ultimately drive business, and people won’t use a space that they don’t approve of.
    It’s a fact. You MUST consider whether residents will actually use a property or land designation, because you can build all the strip malls and movie theaters and whatever else the business community “wants” from you, but ultimately, it’s the people who will decide whether those stores or offices or theater seats will be filled or not.
    Unfortunately, it never works out that way and we get paper thin, built-in-a-day, corporate architecture and sterile developments because business says so and that’s that. Then people die a little inside and try to forget about it. Ultimately, these eyesores become normal.

    I think you’re right to be demanding responsible infrastructure at a minimum, instead of at the top of a wishlist, which so often happens. Keep driving at it. Smart commentary like this is what boards and commissions rarely hear from the people they serve. They hear the emotional rhetoric of the nimby’s and see the numbers on the proposal, but it is this relentless pursuit of explicit clarification and transparency that is the gap citizens need to fill. I am rooting for you.

    • lagusta

      Thank you for a great comment! “Smart commentary”–ahh! I feel so stupid with all this Planning Board stuff, thanks for the encouragement!


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