The integration of commercial development in the formerly residential Route 299 Gateway may threaten the aesthetic of the surrounding area.
On Oct. 3, the New Paltz Town Board voted to change parts of the area from being strictly residential to allow commercial property in the vacinity. The zoning provides additional regulations on what kinds of developments would be allowed.
At a public hearing on Sept. 19, many concerned community members and environmentalists spoke about the issues that could arise if this district rezoning is put into law. People specifically spoke on the need for a vegetative buffer near the Thruway to erase the possibility of massive amounts of noise for future residents.
The “gateway” refers to the section of Route 299 from North/South Putt Corners Road to North/South Ohioville Road, with its depth to the north and south of Route 299. This includes the thruway corridor, as well the Ohioville hamlet, and stretches as far as the stoplight by ShopRite in town.
Committee members have been interested in rezoning this district for quite some time, with their main priorities being to regulate how developers can use the land and preserve the local flora and fauna in the Hudson Valley region. The rezoning laws proposed by the planning board in April and overseen by the town board would do both of these things.
The proposal includes specific requirements that incoming businesses would have to abide by in order to develop their projects. Some recent proposals have included a resort, waterpark and a CVS/Five Guys. In order to stay in compliance with the new rezoning laws, businesses would be required to stay within height and quantity restraints and allow ample space for pedestrian and biking usage.
Most residents seemed to approve of the rezoning at the public hearing.
“As a town we have a responsibility to create a vision for our community which will allow for both the preservation of our natural resources as well as provide for the current needs of our community, which entails growth and development,” said long time resident of New Paltz Christine Ransom. “It is imperative that we create guidelines to ensure that both of those goals are met.”
Others were hesitant to give their full support. “Of course we are very concerned that what was once a very rural-centric part of the town will now be an ugly haven for franchised businesses and it will lose both the rural character and the pride in small town community,” said North Ohioville Road resident Sabrina Ferguson.
One major concern that residents have is the effect on farmland and agriculture. For a large portion of the Sept. 17 town board meeting, the board members focused on the confirmation that the proposed changes would have little, if any, negative effects on the environment, through a document known as the “SEQR determination.”
According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) is the “lead agency’s assessment of whether or not the proposed project will have a significant adverse impact on the environment.”
One of the highlights in the proposal included a possible trolley system throughout the Town of New Paltz, and potentially neighboring districts as well. Cars would be encouraged to park in designated lots outside of town, and residents could be transported via trolley car. This was brought up as an idea to alleviate traffic and congestion on Main Street in the Village.
A similar system is used in the town of Cooperstown, New York, where the Baseball Hall of Fame is located. Traffic pollution significantly decreased with the addition of a trolley car system, which gave visitors a more economically friendly and safe way to take in the sights.
Although possible developments would still have to go through the planning board for approval, this rezoning would allow them to be considered in different locations, and give them concrete guidelines for how to best create a plan of action. The Town Board was not interested in making substantial changes to the proposal based on the comments made at the hearing.
“All my colleagues here would share how impressive the community response has been in this whole process and everyone’s participation in helping make this change,” remarked Town Board Councilman David Brownstein.
“We can choose how we develop our community,” concluded Ransom. “In doing so, I believe we will strengthen our identity and preserve what we love.”
More information on the Route 299 Gateway rezoning is available at http://www.townofnewpaltz.org/town-board/pages/proposed-route-299-gateway-rezoning.