The effort to expand the veterans cemetery at Rural New Paltz Cemetery continues to be haunted by complications, but county officials overseeing the project are committed to seeing it through. Dennis Doyle, who oversees this county-level planning, briefed members of the New Paltz Town Planning Council on how this is going at their December 13 meeting. Doyle also walked away with another bureaucratic step completed, waiving the city’s zoning requirements and oversight by the local planning council. A similar decision was taken by members of the Village Planning Council earlier this year.
Relinquishing oversight in a situation where overlapping layers of government might mess up what is already a detailed process is done by applying this “balance of interest” test. Council members were essentially asked to weigh the merits of subjecting county officials to a process that may well have included a referral to Ulster County Planning Council over how this potentially self-referential review might hurt interests of taxpayers.
A small section near the front of the rural New Paltz cemetery was set aside for the funeral of veterans several years ago, ensuring those who served can receive a military funeral while having their remains buried in the county from Ulster. With this area nearly full, an adjacent, unused eight-acre parcel of cemetery land must be developed to provide enough space for the deceased veterans of the next century. The land will remain on the books as part of the same cemetery, with a county easement for that section. A maintenance agreement was negotiated with the members of the board of directors of the association in charge of the cemetery. Part of the area is in the village, where there is no authorized area for cemeteries. With members of both planning councils agreeing to the procedure that waives zoning requirements for a project initiated at another level of government, county officials will be able to move forward with overseeing this expansion directly. This includes performing the necessary environmental review and obtaining authorization from representatives of various government agencies. The zoning waiver will make this project simpler, but by no means simple.
Doyle told council members that much of the recent attention has been on the archaeological examination. Most projects at New Paltz don’t get much; a letter from officials overseeing historic preservation usually confirms that there is no likelihood of something of interest occurring. This is not what happened in this case. Doyle explained that after completing Phase 1a of the review – described as a “discussion of what’s out there,” county planners were urged to move on to Phase 2, the digging of test wells. Something of interest has obviously been found in these pits, as Phase 3 – “feature recovery”, as Doyle put it – will be the next step in this investigation. This involves the use of ground penetrating radar to ensure that there is no existing cemetery. The absence of cemeteries has been confirmed and the design of this new cemetery space has been reconfigured “to avoid historical features closer to the river”. This is all part of the environmental review, which cannot be waived. A negative statement of significant environmental impact is anticipated “at a given time”.
Officials from other state offices were also consulted as these plans came together. It must, for example, be submitted to the state cemetery authorities. There will also be ways to engage with nearest neighbors, which the planning director said has been complicated by pandemic-fueled rules regarding mass gathering. Some of these neighbors have in the past shown a keen interest in how major projects will affect the majestic trees along Plains Road. In this case, all trees along the street frontage will remain. Up to five dead or dying trees further from the road will be uprooted from their current resting places. The condemned trees are close to the “boulevard” which is intended for a “majestic entrance” to the space.
Doyle was confident that all the necessary steps – both for the environmental review and to obtain the necessary permits – would be completed in the coming weeks, saying: “We want to bid early in the new year and usher in Memorial Day.” , said board members. Recount.