Park Point Town Hearing Poses Problems

The New Paltz Town Planning Board met Monday, Dec. 9 for a public hearing on the proposed development of the Park Point housing complex.

New Paltz Town Supervisor Susan Zimet was the first person to speak.

Speaking on behalf of the New Paltz Town Board, Zimet said that the Park Point project did not meet the requirements necessary to be eligible for a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement.

According to Zimet, the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) requires that a project create increased employment, economic vitality, creation and attraction of new businesses, retention of existing businesses, and new opportunities for the local economy to be approved for a PILOT agreement.

Zimet said the 90 percent reduced tax rate Park Point developer company Wilmorite would pay with the PILOT agreement did not bring commensurate value to the community and proposed that the IDA further review that Park Point met the PILOT objectives.

“Should the IDA believe that financial ascendance still be necessary, before the IDA takes any action on the PILOT, the town board anticipates it demand proof from the applicant that demonstrates the basis for the need and that it will provide clear explanation on what facts and circumstances were used in granting PILOT to this applicant,” Zimet said.

Zimet proposed a third party expert be brought in to analyze the possible fiscal benefits and fiscal consequences of the project.

Ruth Quinn, vice president of the New Paltz Central School District’s board of education spoke next.

Quinn questioned the justification of a PILOT agreement when state aid for local public education decreased annually.

“With no increase in state aid, options included budget override or continued cutting of staff and programs,” Quinn said.

Quinn explained that PILOT agreements had “no floor” to the tax levy limit, making it possible to have a tax levy of less than zero percent. Quinn said that should this happen, local tax payers would bear a heavier burden in the community.

Director of Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach (CRREO) Gerald Benjamin spoke in defense of the college and Wilmorite.

“The college does not lie to the community,” Benjamin said. “And these accusations have been made a lot.”

Benjamin referred to criticism that infrastructure growth by the college, be it classroom buildings or housing facilities, would result in student population growth. Benjamin rebutted the claim, saying the school will not increase it’s undergraduate population because both current and proposed facilities could not accommodate it.

Benjamin said that the infrastructure growth those critics refer to are replacement and renovation of decades-old buildings. Benjamin said the new residence hall approved this year was done to reduce triple occupancy in the current halls.

Benjamin went on to say that Wilmorite’s history as a corporation has been “misrepresented.”

“Wilmorite is an up-state company that is seeking to build its business in up-state New York in collaboration with a regional institution and is family-owned,” Benjamin said. “We should be proud that New York can create companies like this even in a very tough business environment. Here we have a New York company trying to invest in New York and we’re condemning it for being successful.”

Benjamin said he believed there to be an ideological predisposition of “anti-capitalist, anti-profit and anti-success.”

“Many in New Paltz don’t like capitalism, they don’t like profit and they don’t like business – even if they benefit from all three,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin said that community decision making should not be based on purposeful unsubstantiated language designed to mobilize but rather data and analysis which he said Wilmorite has been responsive in providing.

Student Association (SA) President Manuel Tejada and Executive Vice President Zachary Rousseas also took to the podium to voice the consensus opinion of SA.

On behalf of SA, Tejada conditionally endorsed the Park Point project citing its benefits to future undergraduate students and transfer students, but not without stating demands SA felt should be considered–affordability, sustainability and economic well-being.

Tejada said that Park Point should remain in keeping with the “student friendly” atmosphere of the other residence halls and be affordable to reach a diverse range of students. To quell the town’s sustainability concern over Park Point’s use of natural gas, Tejada proposed the installation of solar panels. Tejada said that SA did not support the current PILOT proposal, saying that students and town residents should not bear the tax responsibility.

Rousseas stated that if SA’s demands are not met they will withdraw their support of the project.

The Planning Board voted to keep the public hearing open for further testimony on the fiscal and environmental impact of the Park Point project to be discussed at the board’s next meeting on Dec. 16.