Proposed New Paltz Student Housing Project Raises Debates

Photo Courtesy of Lauren Thomas

The public comment period on a proposed 250-unit housing proposal was pushed back following numerous requests for more time in a Village of New Paltz Planning Board meeting on Nov. 9. 

The proposed project would be located along Route 32 South and Cross Creek Rd, or essentially behind SUNY New Paltz’s Lenape and Esopus Halls. Plans also include a clubhouse, fitness center, swimming pool, patio area, nature trail and associated parking. With townhouse and cottage-style apartments on two parcels making up a total of 129 acres, there is an extensive process ahead of construction. The two parcels would have to be annexed from the Town of New Paltz to the Village of New Paltz. Then, the parcels would undergo rezoning and subdivision into four separate R-3 lots.

An extensive project with environmental impact, the Planning Board required back in May of 2021 that an Environmental Impact Statement be drafted for the proposed project. Draft Environmental Impacts (DEIs) are intended to convey general and technical information regarding the potential environmental impacts of a project. In this case, it was written to the Village of New Paltz Planning Board as Lead Agency, agencies involved in the review of the Project and to the interested public. 

With extensive plans for the housing unit–coined New Paltz Apartments–the Planning Board meeting featured participation from a range of community members. The ten total commenters in the meeting shared a variety of concerns, but many pertained to whether the project would be exempt from village requirements of 10% of new development being reserved for affordable housing due to its exclusive focus on student tenants.

The DEI for this specific project states the project’s intent for the apartments to be rented by students who already live in the Village. New Paltz resident Susan Denton questioned how these apartments would impact the cost of rentals elsewhere in the Village. “There’s no guarantee that those apartments, if vacated in the village, would remain affordable. There’s no provision for how the town will be kept apprised of the continued commitment to the affordable units, what they will cost, how the rest of the project will be monitored to ensure commitments made by the DEIs will be monitored over time for its promised elements.”

Denton specified how there are already 413 student-rented spaces in the Village of New Paltz. Students most often occupy transitional housing, not permanent housing. Building more of this non-permanent, “transitional” housing threatens already-increasing rent prices, which is a major concern to permanent residents of New Paltz such as Denton.

Additional commentary on the project’s DEI came from Kitty Brown, who was recently elected onto the Town Board. Brown expressed reservations about the apartment’s energy usage and its impact, and was looking for municipal leaders to provide answers before approving anything. 

“The DEIS notes that the project creates a new demand for electric, which can be provided by Central Hudson’s existing system,” Brown said. “Will the project opt into the community aggregation program that we’ve all worked hard to establish? The DEIS frequently refers to New York State’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act regarding emissions, but it doesn’t mention solar panels for new construction. None of the buildings or parking lots (in the proposal) include solar panels. Adding these would be a significant benefit to the community by adding to, rather than subtracting from, the capacity of our municipal grid.”

The U-Act Housing Committee, a subsection of Ulster County Activists, expressed that they “struggle to understand how the proposed New Paltz Apartments, which clearly have been described as housing for students, but which would have no connection to SUNY, can be marketed as student housing.” The committee raised questions as to whether such a restriction is legal, as it potentially challenges fair housing laws. It is unclear to U-Act whether it is the “intention of the developers to market to and accept residents who are not students.”

However, not all commentary in the meeting was negative toward the project, with some student voices emerging in support of the New Paltz Apartments. SUNY New Paltz student Wren Kingsley expressed how he felt the project was necessary as there is a need for housing. Not only when it comes to undergrad students, Kingsley specified, but also there is an emphasis on affordable housing for adjunct professors, professors and grad students. “I was excited to hear the proposed project because there’s a need for housing,” said Kingsley.

Kingsley offered ideas that would help perfect the housing project, including a bike path and other alternative transportation plans required to allow for the apartments to be assimilated into the Town and Village effectively. He directly encouraged the Planning Board and developers to reach out to students regarding the project, to get their thoughts, opinions and potential ideas on the proposal. 

“I think in general, the Town and the Village of New Paltz need to come together to reimagine what transportation in the community could look like,” Kingsley said. “And I feel excited about what a large housing development would do in terms of rallying around these issues rather than pushing them away. Because it’s 2023, and by the time that this goes up, it’ll probably be around 2030. We just don’t have time to be putting up a building that isn’t perfect and is not exactly what our community needs.”

Overall, many community concerns related back to affordable housing, the reaching impacts and the general implications of a housing project of this magnitude. New Paltz resident Jackie Brownstein explained how she and other residents plan to hold the Village accountable when it comes to maintaining affordable housing for all, beyond a project designed with only students in mind. 

“The obligation of the village is to provide housing for families at or below 60% of Ulster County Area Mean Income (AMI),” stated Brown. “We do not see how this development will meet that obligation when it’s being developed both in structure and purpose for students. We want to see the village meeting its obligation by requiring the developers to construct separate housing to meet the needs of non-student, individuals and families.”

Planning Board chair Zach Bialecki said he was in favor of extending the public hearing through the Board meeting planned for Tuesday, December 5, a measure later approved. “I think we heard loud and clear from the community that people want more time to comment and to look through the DEIS,” Bialecki said. Discussions regarding the project, the DEI and specific plans to maintain affordable housing are anticipated to continue during the next meeting.