Thursday, November 6, 2008

Crossroads Makes No Economic Sense

Crossroads at New Paltz is a heavily opposed 58-acre development slated for prime real estate just off of exit 18 on the New York State Thruway. It's a contentious parcel of land, having been the site of an historic fight against Wal-Mart in the 1990s. Crossroads is one of the primary reasons I invited Ira Margolis to write for this blog; I know he and I have differing views on this mixed-use development, and I know it would be a lot more fun around here if other viewpoints were represented. I'm still hopeful about Ira, but I digress.

I had ample opportunity to study this project during my year on the Town Planning Board, and certainly would have voted against it had I continued in that capacity. (The reasons I had for leaving would be best left for another post, perhaps closer to the 2009 elections.) My main reasons for disliking Crossroads were simple:
  1. Economics.
  2. Economics, and
  3. Economics.
I won't deny that there are real environmental issues with this project, but they pale in comparison to the bad economic choices for the New Paltz community. Thank goodness we had a major economic crisis in this country that would throw this bad plan into sharp relief!

The Problem with a Consumer Economy
The United States is driven almost entirely by consumerism. A quarter of our GDP is driven by Christmas presents. Since World War II we have increasingly imported goods from elsewhere, because it's impossible to pay a decent wage and produce affordable product here (and one of these days I will have to talk about how unions have violated their trust and caused much of this meltdown, but again, that's a tangent for another day). We just don't make anything anymore.

Since we're so dependent on buying crap, we have gotten sucked more and more into a credit economy. No one waits to buy things until they have the money anymore. First houses, and then cars, became so costly that it seemed that borrowing was the only option. Of course now that credit is hard to come by, I'm praying that everyone will realize that, if you don't borrow the money, the prices will have to come down, since a big reason for that inflation was credit itself. It's very easy to by today's toys with tomorrow's money, at least as long as you expect to be making more money tomorrow.

Crossroads and Consumerism
So the direction of our country is towards a retail economy that can't be supported on a retail paycheck. Crossroads would bring that home to roost. New Paltz is already heavily tourist-dependent, with few opportunities to get a decent-paying job for skilled workers. The development as proposed would sacrifice one of our few chances to tilt that balance back, by giving up land that is zoned for light industrial use, and converting it into retail instead.

Mind you, there will be plenty of housing on this tract, but even the "affordable" section will be well beyond the price that one could expect an employee at, say, the Gap to afford for rent. The residents will go elsewhere to find jobs, and the employees will come from outside our community.

It just doesn't make sense in light of the flaws in our local and national economy, flaws which I have wondered about for years but many others are just now noticing. Toni Hokanson has argued that the plan would have been much worse under existing zoning, but I think that's a lousy way to govern. I like Toni and agree with many of her positions, but this one issue is going to ruin New Paltz if her defeatist attitude is allowed to hold sway. Reactive planning and zoning is exactly why Jonathan Wright has been arguing for a moratorium for years now - let's tell developers what makes sense for New Paltz first, so we don't have to consider one crappy plan after another. However, as I have found out myself, calls for a moratorium to allow us to plan intelligently fall upon deaf ears.

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