“It could be a really amazing project for the village,” Mayor Brian Maher said last week, following a presentation by village planner Alan Sorenson. “It’s definitely worth us considering.”
Sorenson advised the Walden Village Board last week that the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) is now offering a Transportation Enhancement Program (TEP) which would reimburse up to 80 percent of the cost of an approved project carrying a pricetag of between $200,000 and $2.5 million—and he had just the project.
In 2001, the award of a grant made the Wallkill-Walden Rail Trail possible. Several years ago, the village had come up with what they thought was the perfect follow-up: a pedestrian bridge over Route 52 on the former site of the Old Scalper Bridge. While the village’s grant application was rated highly at the time, the grant was eventually awarded to another project.
Sorenson said the new program from the DOT would fit the project and said he was pretty excited about their prospects. The proposed walkway would allow pedestrians on the south side to access the Rail Trail without having to cross Route 52. According to Sorenson, the approximately 100-foot span would connect the two bridge abutments owned by Norfolk Southern on either side of the state highway.
Since the TEP is a reimbursement program and not a traditional grant, Sorenson warned that the village would need to plan accordingly to be able to advance the funds necessary to fund the project.
“I’d feel better having a better handle on the cost estimate before moving forward,” said Trustee Sean Hoffman.
Sorenson stated that the proposal back in 2006 was in the neighborhood of $600,000, but he expects the cost of the project will likely be more than that now, around $700,000. The village’s engineer is to prepare a new cost estimate for the Village Board.
The Village Board will first need to approve Sorenson to prepare the grant application—a process that carries an approximate cost of $2,500—the deadline for which is Aug. 16. The board plans to advise Sorenson at its next meeting whether or not it will hire him to prepare the application.
Trustee Willie Carley stated that he felt the first question that needed to be answered was whether the village would need to acquire property and if it was possible. Following that, the board needed a firm cost estimate to determine if it wants to move forward.
Sorenson explained after the meeting that the project was rated very highly in 2006 because it “really helps to create a seamless connection for a larger segment of the village residents, as well as a connection to the downtown business district.”
To avoid the same problems that plagued the former bridge—namely a low clearance that scalped trucks traveling on Route 52—Sorenson said the bridge would have an arched base and raised elevation to give substantially more clearance.
He added that in his opinion, the popular Rail Trail was a “very positive addition” to the village and putting in the pedestrian bridge would be “the icing on the cake.”
In other business, the board also discussed the proposed local law that would change the village zoning to allow accessory apartments for those facing financial hardship. It was noted that in the course of reviewing the proposal the board had learned that there was a large number of existing apartments in the village—well over 400—and that it would be difficult to define what constituted a hardship as well as to find a property in the village that could fit within the proposed restrictions.
“I don’t think there are many properties in the village, frankly, that would be able to meet these requirements,” said Deputy Mayor Sue Rumbold.
The change, put forward by the Zoning Board of Appeals, is meant to help seniors and others in dire financial straits retain their homes by generating additional income renting out the newly created accessory apartment or the remainder of the home.
Maher suggested that the proposal be discussed at the next tri-board meeting. In the public comment portion, Zoning Board member Becky Pearson expressed frustration, explaining that they had been looking for suggestions or some revisions, not for them to kick it back.
ZBA Chairperson Brenda Adams agreed, explaining that they had thought they would work collaboratively on the proposed law until they could come up with something everyone could live with.
Property maintenance hearings were set for 46 Scofield Street and 73-77 West Main Street for July 16, as well as public hearings for the same date on the proposed special-event sign law and a local law allowing the board more flexibility in awarding service contracts.
By RACHEL COLEMAN