The people are growing restless, and the clock is ticking. When will the rectangle in New Paltz be squared away?
The 51 Main St. property, in which Village Trustee Don Kerr nicknamed “the rectangle” in a Facebook post, is still vacant and construction has yet to begin. “It’s this empty eyesore right in the middle of downtown, and it’s been that way for years,” Kerr said. “I think as a village trustee, there is a responsibility to try to solve that problem.”
Dimitri Viglis, the property’s developer, wants to transform the vacant space into a Greek restaurant with apartments on the upper floors. But for a number of months, this project has been in limbo with really no solution in sight, taking a significant toll on surrounding businesses.
“It’s been really hard on Moonlight Café,” Kerr said. “I talk to the business owner every once in a while and he says this fence is killing me. That construction fence has been there for two years, and if you are walking up Main Street with the Wallkill River to your back, you don’t even see his business until you’re past it.”
After a number of setbacks, on April 17, 2018 the Village Planning Board approved Viglis’ resolution to his construction plans, under the condition that construction or improvements begin within a year. If no work is done within a year, Viglis must go back to the planning board for resubmission.
“I think it’s important to remove this ghost from the crossroads of the village, and to my frustration, negotiations have taken so long and now we have a different problem,” Kerr said.
The one-year approval countdown ran out yesterday. “We’ve been going through the process to try getting him [Viglis] a building permit and he just couldn’t satisfy the conditions of review for the building permit,” said New Paltz building inspector and fire safety inspector Corey Wirthmann. “Nothing has been started, which can’t be started without a permit, but in that time period he needs to resubmit to the planning board.”
According to Kerr, there has been a lot of self-inflicted wounds during this construction process. The most recent issue is a matter of how to heat the building. Because the building is at the village’s maximum height standard, no heating system can be placed on the roof.
Viglis then proposed burying the propane tanks underneath the neighboring parking lot which raised fire safety concerns. However, at a public meeting, Mayor Tim Rogers suggested to Viglis to make a bid on the publicly owned parking lot. If the parking lot was a private property, a private owner—in this case, Viglis—might be comfortable burying the propane tanks.
“I am not particularly in favor of selling the parking lot or any particular solution,” Kerr said. “I am just in favor of there being a solution and whatever the solution there is to get that building open, that’s what I want to do.”
A month ago, Wirthmann wrote a letter to Viglis asking him for a detailed report on how he plans to wrap up this seemingly never-ending project. Viglis had a 10-day time stamp to respond to Wirthmann’s request.
“I haven’t heard from anyone in a while, so me being me, I decided to say ‘Hey, I’m required by the state to either approve or deny an application, it can’t just stay in limbo,’” Wirthmann said.
Recently, Viglis came to the building department and said he plans to use natural gas to heat the building—a heating option that would require building across several other peoples’ properties, which Viglis does not yet have permission to do.
“I have to have plans, I have to have rights of ways, I have to have something I can approve and say this is a safe way to bring natural gas to the building,” Wirthmann said. “So yes, he told me what his plan is, but I don’t have anything physical to review which is what I’m required to do by law.”
In order to move forward with 51 Main St.’s construction, Viglis must resubmit a building application to receive a permit, but Wirthmann cannot issue a building permit without an approved site plan, which expired yesterday.
“I think the responsibility for how we got here falls on Mr. Viglis, the responsibility for how we got here is squarely on his shoulders,” Kerr said. “But I think it is incumbent upon anyone and everyone who can find a way to solve this problem to do so.”
Wirthmann suggested that Viglis take the plans he had before and add the natural gas in with his new approval. “If it gets done all at the same time at the planning board stage, it would make things kind of set in stone,” Wirthmann said.