Friday, December 5, 2008

Main Course Mayhem on Millrock Road

Butch Dener isn't very happy with the Village Planning Board.

He's angry that Bruce and Vicki Kazan have had "stumbling blocks" placed in front of their project on the corner of Millrock and Main. In part I agree with his letter (which I won't bother linking to, due to Ulster Publishing's mysterious policy of taking stories down from the website after a period of time, a policy that bespeaks a lack of understanding of the internet . . . but, I digress), but not entirely. Let's look at some facts:
  • The Kazans had their project approved some time ago, and it's just about complete. Butch could have written his letter of praise regardless of the most recent PB meeting.
  • Bruce came back because he's looking to get a special use permit - essentially, change the agreement he made with the Village - to allow a tenant that will be selling artisinal breads.
  • Residents of Millrock Road, long opposed to this building, believe that a business that falls into the "grocery" definition of the code would increase the shortcut traffic along Henry W. Dubois and down Millrock.
Like Butch, I love the design of the building and applaud the Kazans' interest in keeping business local. I also happen to love the kind of bread that this potential new business wants to sell and will probably frequent it as often as my wallet and waistline allow, as I stated for the record.

I also happen to agree with Butch that the meetings are a bit . . . inconsistent. He makes particular reference to my fellow member Marion Dubois and her interest in the project:
"She (and the chairman) allows the residents to address her during the meetings, which is against all known policies and procedures. That alone is a conflict. But she, herself, lives on that street! Another conflict. No wonder she listens to these folks, she is their neighbor and friend."
Comment from the public
Now let's talk about this back-and-forth at meetings. I've had that type of dialog at Town Board meetings when I have submitted public comment, so it's not exactly unprecedented, whether or not it's good practice. I would prefer to have a formal public comment period at Planning Board meetings, because it would give community members an opportunity to weigh in on matters that are not set for a public hearing, but when I have suggested that all I get are blank stares. I've had to call people on my own time to ask them their opinions on various matters in the past, just because I really want to know what New Paltz is thinking.

A public comment period would not only allow community members to share their views at each and every meeting, it would allow the Chairman to refuse comment during the remainder of the meeting without being perceived as unfair or arbitrary. Ray Curran tries very hard to balance community input with running an orderly meeting, but I don't know if it's possible without using all the tools available to him.

Butch also remarks, " Do these Millrock Road geniuses really think that cars will turn down their street from Henry W. DuBois Drive to get to Bruce's business? Gimme a break. No! They won't."

Butch, I don't know which New Paltz you're living in, but my New Paltz includes a Main Street that is all but undriveable for many hours each day. As I stated at the meeting, I have avoided Main Street for years by using Henry Dubois, and most other residents do as well. The traffic and land use study, best-known for recommending a one-way Main Street, pointed out what we are all doing this. Take North Putt Corners to Henry Dubois, and make whatever turn will bring you closest to your Main Street destination.

The neighborhood is concerned that there will be additional traffic, putting their eighteen children at risk. Honestly I'm not sure if they're right, but Bruce's figures, pulled from a standard (but generic) traffic study manual, simply don't address how much of that traffic will be taking that shortcut.

I wish there was a middle ground between Bruce's figures and hiring a traffic consultant. I'm hoping that consultant doesn't have to do much work to tell us what we need to know, because if it costs too much it may mean we lose a tasty tenant for this location. But I can't make a decision that doesn't weigh all the factors.

Increased development in the village core is preferred to paving over more former farms and untouched natural areas. This building is already approved and nothing that we do is going to change that, no matter how badly Marion Dubois and the other residents of Millrock Road may want that. Barring any really scary information about traffic, I'm going to support the special use permit - as long as it won't open the door to a QuickieMart-type place, which I think would be a very bad idea.

If Bruce is on the agenda for December 16, I hope many people come to the meeting. I'd like to see a show of support for a good project like this.

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