Community Continues Park Point Debate

The Town of New Paltz Planning Board decided at their Nov. 19 meeting to keep forums concerning Park Point open to the public through December.

The decision to keep the public forum open came from the number of concerns New Paltz residents at the meeting had about the environmental and fiscal issues that were brought up in earlier discussions and from the Draft of Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that Wilmorite, the private company that would be in charge of building and operating Park Point, be released before the first public hearing addressing Park Point on Nov. 2.

Unlike the first public hearing, this meeting hosted more opposition to Park Point. New Paltz resident Karen Rhinehart said Park Point’s location would be a problem should it be built.

Rhinehart said she was concerned about the distance from campus the project would be located and the traffic it could potentially create because it is so far away.

Rhinehart and other residents said they were concerned about the wells Wilmorite would build to drill for water. As of right now, the DEIS said the water drilled from the wells would only be used for Park Point residents.

New Paltz resident Rachel Lagodka said that New Paltz currently has a “limited” amount of water and that if there is water, it must be available to the entire New Paltz community.

Lagodka also said she hopes the town would be able to do its own independent study concerning how clean and usable the water is.

“I think we need to know absolutely everything about that [water wells],” Lagodka said. “We need to know how much water is there. It’s one thing to find a source, but if you’re only going to use it for this one development, we really have to weigh that.”

Concerns about raised arsenic levels that were brought up at the hearing on Nov. 2 were voiced again. According to the DEIS, tests on July 18 of this year showed that there was a reported 1.8 amount of arsenic in the water. The reporting limit for this is 1.4.

SUNY New Paltz alumnus Mike Wietecha said the levels of arsenic in the soil at the site are “3.9 times the federal level and 4.9 times the state level.” Wietecha also said he believes the arsenic levels are one of the biggest factors people should look at when deciding whether or not Park Point should become a reality.

“I’m an alumni and my friends joke and ask why I’m going to this and the reason I’m going to this is the pregnant women who might be living there and the faculty and workers who might be exposed to this,” Wietecha said. “It’s not right for them…that should be a big concern. If we’re going to build this, we have to build it the right way.”

A student representative from Students for Sustainable Agriculture attended the meeting and said the group was concerned about how the project would be built and if it would adhere to environmental standards. The representative also had a list of at least 12 organizations on campus concerned about how the project will be built, including Yoga Club, Muslim Student Association and Recycling Club.

Paul Brown, who previously served as chairman of the Town of New Paltz Planning Board, discussed the Economic and Fiscal Analysis Report included in the DEIS. According to the report, which was done by economic development company Camoin Associates, Wilmorite would “likely” seek a Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) that would benefit residents of Park Point. Brown questioned whether or not it is fair for a for-profit company to receive “preferential tax treatment.”

Brown also said he was concerned about whether or not Town of New Paltz Police or the University Police Department (UPD) would respond to calls from Park Point, how many calls would come from the site, how much they would cost and who would pay for them. He said these concerns showcase a section of the report that should be focused on again.

“The entire section [titled] Impact on Public Safety Services is flawed in its methodology and incredible, literally incredible, in its conclusions,” Brown said.

Village Trustee Ariana Basco also raised concerns about which police department would respond to calls from Park Point, and encouraged residents to “look at the facts” instead of feeling sympathy for students unable to find housing.

“It seems to me like all of the people in support of this project — in particular administrators, students and faculty — are telling us very nice stories and personal anecdotes about why this housing is so important,” Basco said. “To me, the goal of that is to appeal to how all of you feel for these students who are not able to get housing in our community…but we need to look at the facts and we need to look at the solid facts and not just the ideas that people might be upset.”

Despite the concerns brought up by New Paltz residents, faculty members and administrators at SUNY New Paltz said their primary concern is the students and providing for them. Director of Transfer Admissions Mike Salerno said transfer students currently feel discriminated against because they do not have the same opportunities as other students.

“I’ve found that students who transfer here, once they’re admitted to the college they still refer to themselves as transfer students,” Salerno said. “Once you’re admitted here, you’re a New Paltz student.”

While administrators have argued that Park Point would benefit students and help involve them in campus life, Village Mayor Jason West disagreed and said students are not the concern of administrators when it comes to Park Point.

“Park Point is not about the students,” West said. “It is about making a profit for Wilmorite.”

Vice President of Student Affairs Ray Schwarz said this housing would meet student needs.

“There is no such thing as a second-class citizen at SUNY New Paltz and I cannot support something that would make our transfer students feel that way,” Schwarz said. “We all want this to be safe and anything to suggest that those who have committed to the lives and well-being of students would turn a blind eye to any experts advice that would purposefully put students in harm’s way is ludicrous and a little insulting.”

After the hearing Wilmorite officials said they are taking into consideration the concerns of New Paltz residents and have already begun to address issues brought up at the meeting.

“The public hearings have been constructive and productive,” Wilmorite’s Director of Business Development Tom George said. “We are very encouraged by the progress that has been made at the last couple meetings, specifically that no new issues emerged that we are not already addressing.”