A changed landscape? A view of SUNY New Paltz from the orchards on Route 32 South; the inset is a site rendering of the 732-bed Park Point proposal from the SUNY New Paltz website. Is this the best solution for accommodating an increased college resident population? (photo by Lauren Thomas)

A changed landscape? A view of SUNY New Paltz from the orchards on Route 32 South; the inset is a site rendering of the 732-bed Park Point proposal from the SUNY New Paltz website. Is this the best solution for accommodating an increased college resident population? (photo by Lauren Thomas)

People looking to say their piece in person about Wilmorite’s proposed Park Point student housing project in New Paltz have one opportunity left to do so. New Paltz’s town planning board is scheduled to close its public hearing on the 732-bed rental facility next Monday evening, January 14, at the town hall.

Wilmorite wants to build student and faculty housing on 42 acres owned by the non-profit SUNY New Paltz Foundation contiguous to the campus on Route 32 South. The developer will construct and maintain the site while leasing it from the foundation for 46 years.

Park Point could provide housing for almost one in ten of New Paltz’s 8000 students. With student housing in great demand, the project would provide a big boost to supply. If and how the project would contribute to the cost of services it would require, however, has not been addressed to the satisfaction of all.

While the project has support from professors, transfer students and college administrators, who see Park Point as alleviating the housing needs on campus, it has been contentious. Wilmorite has faced public hearings packed with both well-wishers and opponents.

SUNY New Paltz president Donald Christian and other high-ranking university officials have backed the $50-million project, contending it is needed to keep the college competitive. Transfer students have told the planning board it was extremely hard to find housing when they wanted to move to New Paltz.

“Many prospective transfer students either don’t apply to New Paltz when they learn we can’t provide housing,” Christian told the planning board in November. “Or they apply, they’re accepted, and they choose to go elsewhere where they can live on or near campus.”

On the other side of the aisle, environmentalists, student activists and some other New Paltzonians dislike the project, decrying it as luxury housing. They have also worried that arsenic and other leftovers from pesticides might contaminate the site.

Some landlords in New Paltz are having a hard time swallowing Park Point because the developer has stated an intention to seek tax abatement from the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency. They think a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (Pilot) agreement would give Wilmorite an unfair advantage over them.

Recently, town and village officials in New Paltz have also expressed concerns that a Pilot agreement might not fully cover the cost of the municipal services required by 700-plus new permanent residents.

Back in November, village mayor Jason West called the Draft Environmental Impact Statement submitted by Wilmorite “intellectually dishonest.” West said he had been disappointed in SUNY. “I’ve been reading DEIS’s for 15 years, and I’ve been coming to lots of these public hearings. And basically you change the name and you change some details – and it’s the exact same conversation in every meeting. The developer provides a dishonest, inaccurate and sales pitch DEIS, hoping the planning board doesn’t catch its mistakes so they can get away with more of a profit margin at the end of the day.”

Other officials have been a little more diplomatic in their language. During its final meeting in December, the town board agreed in principle to send a letter telling the town planning board it didn’t endorse the project getting a Pilot. That letter still needs finishing touches, however.

“We want to accommodate the college’s needs,” councilman Kevin Barry explained. “They have a need, and this is a vehicle for them to do the project without having to go to the Dormitory Authority to serve their student population. But what we need is we need a fair contribution – whatever it may be – toward the cost of our services.”

If Park Point were assessed at the full $50 million, it is estimated that Wilmorite would pay $906,000 in school taxes, $377,000 in town taxes and $208,000 in county taxes.

Next Monday’s meeting won’t be the final opportunity to react to Park Point. Written comments can still be sent to the planning board until January 28.