Community Debates Proposed Housing Project

More than 60 New Paltz residents, students and local business owners packed New Paltz Town Hall on Friday, Nov. 2 to make their voices heard at the first public hearing for the proposed Park Point project.

Park Point — a 732-bed residential housing community that would be built on 42 acres of land adjacent to campus on State Route 32 — was debated by various community members at a scheduled New Paltz Planning Board meeting last week.

Proponents of the proposed complex cited the need for more student housing on campus, particularly to meet the needs of transfer students. According to a SUNY New Paltz press release, the completion of Park Point would allow approximately 60 percent of the college’s undergraduate body to have on-campus housing options. This would be an increase of 10 percent.

Others in the community brought up concerns ranging from the cost of living in the proposed apartment-style housing project to the impact the construction could have on the
environment.

SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian spoke before the Planning Board in support of the Park Point project.  Christian said the proposed housing would be a benefit for transfer students who are presently not guaranteed on-campus housing upon their acceptance to the college.

“We hear every year from prospective transfer students who come to New Paltz to visit and they come in tears when they learn we can’t provide apartment-style housing on campus,” Christian said. “It doesn’t escape our attention that almost every other four-year SUNY institution has on-campus apartments or townhouses for students, including some of our biggest competitors for students.”

Christian said the college partnered with Wilmorite, a private company based in Rochester, to develop the project because the state would not allow SUNY New Paltz to borrow the necessary funds to build housing while renovating the college’s existing residence halls.

“So our choice is very clear,” Christian said. “Develop this project with the partnership of the private developer or not do it at all.”

New Paltz Professor Gerald Benjamin also spoke in favor of the proposed complex. Benjamin said the objection to a private developer/manager was not sound for many reasons. One reason was the blurring of the distinction in higher education between public and private.

Benjamin said he believes the project should be slated for construction based on the fact that it would not increase the size of the college in a dramatic way and Wilmorite has a strong track record of catering to students needs.

“We’re not talking about building the college with more enrollments,” Benjamin said. “I’ve been here for almost three years in the planning stage, and going forward…I’m hard pressed to understand why this is such a controversial matter.”

However, several community members spoke against the project at the meeting on Friday.

Many of those opposed to the Park Point complex cited concerns about the impact the housing construction would have on the environment.

One commenter believed more tests of arsenic levels need to be done on the soil, while others brought up the fact that the land the project will be built on was covered in pesticides when it was an orchard.

Liz Clough, a fifth-year anthropology major, said she was particularly concerned with how environmentally friendly Park Point would be.

“As I have experienced with this campus as a whole, it’s easy to throw the term ‘green’ around and to still cut corners and not legitimately keep up to those standards,” Clough said.

According to SUNY New Paltz’s website, federally-regulated wetlands will be “preserved and enhanced” and no evidence of endangered species or critical habitat was found on the site.

Moving forward, the project will have another public hearing on Nov. 19 and written comments can be submitted to the Planning Board through that date.

The project would be built on acres owned by an affiliate of The New Paltz Foundation and would cost approximately $45-50 million to complete, according to the New Paltz press release.


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