Despite the sound of its name, a “positive declaration” is essentially a big thumbs-down from the Planning Board. It means that the project could hurt the environment, economy, traffic patterns or community character.
The applicant, Wilmorite Inc., will now have to document, analyze and potentially mitigate the harmful effects of the housing project. The Rochester-based firm has built a similar off-campus student housing complex in its hometown, but in Rochester it included retail and restaurants.
The company is applying under the town’s planned unit development (PUD) zoning law, which allows for greater density -- in this case, five times the density -- if there are substantial public benefits that outweigh the impact of the density.
While the intent of the town’s PUD law was to encourage large-scale, mixed-use developments with retail on the bottom floor and residential or workforce housing on upper floors in a clustered, village-like design, they agreed to forward this to the Planning Board for review, as they have no “large-scale residential complex zoning on the books,” according to town Supervisor Toni Hokanson.
While the site plan and SEQRA will be taken on by the Planning Board, it is ultimately the town that decides whether or not to approve the PUD application. That decision is based primarily on the outcome of the site plan approval or non-approval by the Planning Board. But it also takes into account the value of the proposed project’s significant “public benefits,” which makes up for their density bonus.
The majority of the land is owned by a subsidiary organization of the SUNY New Paltz Foundation called “Goshawk,” a not-for-profit organization, which purchased the land for the proposed development and will lease the land to Wilmorite for 20 residential buildings.
Another player in the mix is J.A.M. -- a for-profit entity made up of Moriello family members -- that owns approximately eight acres where a proposed wastewater treatment area would be created.
Responding to a series of questions from the public, the Planning Board attorney George Rhodenhausen said that his understanding was that J.A.M. was partnering with Wilmorite on the project and that the land was being held and leased by Goshawk.
Rick Bunt and several others residents expressed concern and confusion over this project, which is admittedly in the early stages. However, fans of Park Point argue that the project is an attempt to create more student/faculty housing, which the campus cannot provide sufficient room for, and to alleviate rental units in the village which, some argue, are more profitable as non-owner occupied rental buildings, as opposed to a more desired blend of single-family housing.
Bunt, a lifelong resident of New Paltz, contractor and landlord, asked several questions of the Planning Board. “First, there’s been many rumblings that this project would be tax exempt. Is that true? Whether they’re tax exempt or not, would they be receiving Ulster County IDA tax abatements and incentives? The last thing this town needs right now is another tax-exempt project.”
He went on to say that the 700-plus beds the project is proposing would equate to approximately ten percent of the village population being relocated to one area.
“How could that not increase our town and village taxes? he asked. “That will create more room in the village and whether or not more renters come in or single families come in, that gap will be filled. This will place an incredible burden on our town/village services. Ten percent? If we think the New Paltz Police overtime budget is painfully high now, I can’t imagine it with an added ten percent population. The impact it will have on our roads, traffic, water, sewer, taxes?”
He added that, “you’re allowing a for-profit company, based out of Rochester, to suck $5 million out of our economy while giving them five times the density? The rest of us pay our fair share of taxes and then some, yet this company gets all of the breaks?”
He and two other residents asked the Planning Board exactly who owns what, who will be paying or not paying taxes and when there could be a “dialogue” with the board on these issues.
Rhodenhausen said that during the SEQRA process there would be “ample time to submit comments and those comments must be addressed by the applicant.” He also added that “we’re listening to your feedback and that will be part of the scoping process and the DEIS and FEIS.”
Ben Miller, another New Paltz resident, echoed much of what Bunt said and asked, “at what point can our questions be answered? When will there be an opportunity for a dialogue?”
The attorney said that there was really no time for an “across-the-table dialogue,” but that documents would become available to the public and that the public would have the opportunity for their concerns, comments and questions to be included in the SEQRA process and answered.
Councilman Jeff Logan said later that the land was “tax exempt,” but that the buildings would pay taxes under the current proposed application.
The developers have said publicly that they will seek IDA tax abatements, as any business can do. Councilwoman Kitty Brown, along with Logan, had been asking the supervisor for months, prior to this PUD application, to have their attorney draft a revised PUD zoning code that among other things, might consider requiring applicants not to apply for IDA tax abatements, as they would be receiving such greater density.
That draft has yet to come forward.
“We’re involved in a long process and this is just the beginning of the beginning,” Rhodenhausen said.
The document the Planning Board acted on had several “potential negative impacts,” including traffic, taxes, community character and a host of environmental concerns, as the property is in part an abandoned apple orchard, has several wetlands and ponds and would require enormous amounts of water and sewer capacity.
Now that the Planning Board has declared a “pos dec” on the application, the analysis of the pros and cons will begin to be analyzed.