Planning Board Surveys Park Point Land

Photo by Robin Weinstein.
Photo by Robin Weinstein.
Photo by Robin Weinstein.

Park Point is one step closer to fruition.

The New Paltz Town Planning Board has recently accepted a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on the proposed Park Point New Paltz Housing Project.

Park Point is a residential housing project on 42 acres of land on Route 32 to be leased from the SUNY New Paltz Foundation. According to the Park Point website, the proposed project includes a 732 bed purpose-built student and faculty/staff housing community full of modern conveniences and on-site amenities.

It also includes a clubhouse, maintenance areas in two buildings, parking areas, stormwater management facilities, recreation areas, internal roads, and water and sewer utilities.

Chair of the New Paltz Planning Board, Michael Calimano said the FEIS encompasses some of the board’s conclusions about all the environmental impacts that have been discussed and received by the board after the public comment period closed on Nov. 26, 2012, on the draft environmental impact statement last year.

“For Park Point there were some issues that were not addressed in the draft because they were not ready at the time,” Calimano said. “We told the public once we got the FEIS, we would open up the public hearing again.”

According to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), a public hearing on the FEIS will be held on Nov. 25, 2013 and will continue on Dec. 9, at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall in New Paltz.

Some of the issues Calimano said will most likely be discussed at the hearing pertain to the water and sewer system, soils and the fiscal impact of the project.

New Paltz Planning Board member Tim Rogers said he hopes the session will be well attended and that the board will hear from a cross section of the community, including SUNY faculty and students.

“My primary concern has been whether the project’s economic and environmental impacts can be mitigated,” he said.

According to page 15 of the FEIS, the pesticide Dieldrin and arsenic were found in surface samples at levels above guidance criteria set by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for Restricted Residential Use.

Calimano said the project sponsor and applicant, Wilmorite Inc., is planning on moving the contained soil to be part of the burm, or barrier, around the pond and cover that soil with another 6 inch layer of topsoil they must provide.

“You won’t be growing vegetables on it, but you won’t want to,” he said. “It’s good topsoil, there are trees in it now, but because it’s arsenic we’re just going to bury it because we don’t want to get close to that to make sure that theres no human impact.”

Calimano said he doesn’t think there’s going to be restriction because of the soil.

“They’re not transporting it, but actually burying it,” he said. “It is not water soluble so it doesn’t move much at all.”

Other issues addressed include pesticide and herbicide use, groundwater contamination, wetland zoning and taxes.

The present version of the Town Wetland Law provided a basis for an analysis of a potential project layout that would be in compliance with the law. The Town of New Paltz is currently in the process of appealing a decision by the Ulster County Supreme Court that revised the town’s Wetlands and Watercourse Protection Law. The law requires a 100 foot buffer between the wetlands and a construction site.

According to the FEIS, the project sponsor approached wetland considerations as if that town law was currently enforceable.

Based on conversations with the Town’s Wetlands Consultant and Planning Board, the current plan includes some encroachment into the buffer, much of which is in areas determined to have lower environmental value, is preferable to a layout that honors the wetland buffer, but has a greater impact on upland woodlots having a higher environmental value.

“If the town wetland law went into effect, Park Point would need permits from the planning board for all of the wetlands for the site,” Calimano said. “What we’re trying to do in the FEIS is to design the project within the confines of the wetlands law so if the law came into effect, they would need permits.”

There are more environmental concerns than listed in the FEIS that students are concerned about. Third-year anthropology major Rebecca Berlin said her main concern is the lack of green energy planned to be used for the project.

“Besides a geothermal pump to heat and cool the clubhouse, no renewable energy sources will be used,” Berlin said. “They will try to use as many ‘energy saving’ appliances as they possibly can so they can check these things off their list and call the project ‘green’ and ‘sustainable.’ These various attempts at being ‘green’ seem like trivial items on a checklist to be crossed off, so that the bare minimum is done to make the project ‘green.’”

Berlin said she thought the design would be rendered useless in 40 years as fossil fuels cease being an abundant resource “leaving us with a shell of cookie cutter McMansions.”

“SUNY New Paltz likes to call itself a ‘green campus’ but in reality these efforts are really just a minimal attempt to be seen as a trendy progressive school,” she said.

Currently, Wilmorite is in the process of seeking tax exemptions for the project through the Ulster County International Development Agency (UCIDA).

“Somewhere along the line the UCIDA put on the books that they would give tax exemptions for dormitory projects. That’s nothing that anyone in New Paltz had to do with,” Calimano said. “The developer is making an application for this exemption. I think from a developer point of view Wilmorite’s going to see everything that they’re eligible for and apply. From a town point of view we need to know what these costs will be for the town and get reimbursed at a minimum.”

He said there are no set numbers right now and that the town is trying to identify the range of expenses it would take on in the first year. Calimano said the current state of the exemptions is “more like a negotiation.”

However, he hopes for Wilmorite, the town, UCIDA and the school to come up with a figure that would work for everyone.

Even though building plans have already been submitted to the building department and the FEIS has been written by the board, there are still many more stages for Wilmorite to go through before they are able to break ground, Calimano said.

The board needs to hold public hearings on some new information that was unavailable in the draft report such as the fiscal impact of the project. Then, they must complete the environmental assessment form, take in that information and address questions on those new specific areas and write up a finding statement. Then the planning board will be able to vote, he said. If approved, then the environmental impact part of Park Point application is completed.

If the board approves the environmental impact part of the application, there are still site plan approvals and a number of agreements that have to be drawn up with the town and, once approved and all of the necessary conditions are put in place, the applicant can start the project, Calimano said.  The project sponsor would like to be moving dirt next spring, he said.

“That would be Wilmorite’s goal to get the infrastructure in by August of 2015,” Calimano said. “Wilmorite’s going to push to do it, but a number of different agreements have to still be put in place.”