Wednesday, June 23, 2010

LWRP: The Endgame Begins

Last night, a new round of discussions about the City of Hudson's Local Waterfront Revitalization Program began at the meeting of the Common Council Economic Development Committee. The committee is chaired by Common Council President Don Moore and is made up of Aldermen Sarah Sterling (First Ward), Abdus Miah (Second Ward), Ellen Thurston (Third Ward), and Richard Goetz (Fifth Ward). The spectator seats filled up early for what many considered an important meeting, but it took a while for the aldermen to assemble. Sterling, summoned by a phone call from Moore, arrived late; Miah never did show up. Alderman Geeta Cheddie (First Ward), although not a member of the committee, sat at the table as if she were--positioned beside City Attorney Cheryl Roberts.

[Since writing this post this morning, I have learned that Sarah Sterling was not summoned to the meeting by Don Moore's phone call. She was on her way back to Hudson from taking her daughter to the airport and was running late, which explains her late arrival at the meeting.]

After a brief summary by Moore of the process going forward, Roberts reviewed where things stand at the moment. She and the planners--BFJ--have all the comments submitted to the Common Council and the Department of State, and they are compiling a document that summarizes the comments and suggests responses, which the Common Council must then accept or reject. There were, she said, six public policy issues that required input from the Common Council.

I. Does the Common Council still support a mixed-use "working waterfront"? Moore made the point that it was less an issue of will there be a working waterfront and more an issue of how it works. Roberts reminded the committee that in a "straw vote" the Council had indicated a preference for a working waterfront over using eminent domain to seize the deep-water dock. Moore expressed the opinion that eminent domain should not be formally removed from the table.

II. Does the Common Council still wish to pursue the "causeway" as the preferred route to the deep-water dock? This is an interesting question since I don't recall Common Council ever supporting this in the first place. Moore called it an "admirable suggestion" that the causeway not by identified as the preferred route. Thurston lamented that, because of the focus on the causeway, other problems in the LWRP were being overlooked--for example, the plan to expand the Holcim dock. On the topic of dock expansion, Roberts surprised everyone by stating, "They have no plans to extend that dock 400 feet."

III. Should the state boat launch be moved to the south end of the waterfront or not? On this topic, it was pointed out that the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation is concerned about submerged vegetation at the preferred site to the south.

IV. What action does the Council want to take on three zoning issues?
(1) Heinrich von Ritter wants his property on Tanners Lane to remain zoned industrial.
(2) O&G wants an "as of right" use for their activities at the waterfront instead of the conditional use permit granted them in the LWRP.
(3) O&G wants the Core Waterfront Zone to be extended the length of the causeway. In the LWRP now, the causeway is included in a Recreation/Conservation Zone.

V. Does the Common Council want to comply with Scenic Hudson's request to incorporate the findings of the Hudsonia study?

VI. Should the mayor have the option of appointing a harbor master? Moore said he would like someone to "monitor the activity down there" and raised the issue of a harbor management plan. Roberts said that the harbor management plan is "in there"--integrated into every part of the LWRP.

When the public was invited to speak, Peter Jung, co-director of The Valley Alliance, urged the Council to remove the language "supports the causeway" from the LWRP. He also pointed out that the 400-foot extension to the deep-water dock, proposed in the draft LWRP, would obliterate Sandy Beach and all the land that the City is hoping to acquire from Holcim. Roberts responded that the dock extension was "just an idea," but one wonders why, if this was not a serious proposal, it was included in the document at all. (Page 125: "Holcim's tenant has expressed the intention to possibly extend the existing dock approximately 400 feet to the south and modernize the port.")

Jung also asked what happened to the Waterfront Advisory Steering Committee, pointing out that according to Coastal Resources guidelines a citizens' committee should still be functioning and should remain active throughout the process of adopting an LWRP and afterward to make sure the program is implemented.

Alan Hamilton asked why, since gravel truck traffic is such a critical issue, something hasn't already been done about it. Thurston said that the City should try to impose some regulations on the gravel trucks, and Moore called the issue of truck traffic "very frustrating." Bob Mechling pointed out that the deep-water dock is now being used to store salt that does not come in by water. It is trucked in over city streets and trucked out again. He also reported that no one from O&G is managing the dock area. Truck drivers have their own keys to the gates and can let themselves into the dock area at whatever time of the day or night they arrive.

Responding to Jung's question about a citizens' committee, Linda Mussmann, chair of the now disbanded Waterfront Advisory Steering Committee, explained that the committee had been tasked with moving the LWRP to a draft form that could be submitted to the Department of State and that task had been accomplished. Clearly unhappy about the spate of criticism the LWRP has been receiving, Mussmann said, "We can stop it and stop Hudson development." She made the point, as she had many times during her tenure as chair of the WASC, that "getting Holcim out of here is all about money." She questioned the focus on Holcim, asking "What about the boat club? What about Furgary?" She then made things personal by saying, "I am not the enemy that Sam Pratt imagines me to be." Although Moore tried to move the conversation along and recognize another speaker, Mussmann resisted being silenced, wanting to pursue her personal debate with Pratt.

When Moore was able to recognize the next speaker, Victor Mendolia expressed the opinion that "95 percent of the document is ready to go." He then advised that "if we can't get rid of heavy industrial use, we must minimize it and contain it."

Pratt, the other co-director of The Valley Alliance, pursued the question of a working waterfront, making the point that what was meant by a "working waterfront" had never been defined. It could mean, he said, the heavy industrial use of hauling gravel to the dock and loading it onto barges, or it could mean using the river to transport the produce of local agriculture to markets in New York City. He pointed out that seizing the dock and the South Bay through eminent domain had been the only option to having a working waterfront offered to the Common Council and argued that, although only extremes had been presented to the Council, undesirable activity and the causes of problems could be phased out over time.

Roberts responded by talking about amortizing and "takings," explaining that you "can't take someone's land by a taking without paying them for it." Pratt responded by suggesting that the City should "consult with someone who is an expert in takings law."

At the beginning of the meeting, Pratt distributed a handout explaining the goals and principles of The Valley Alliance. At the end of the meeting, Jung spoke about The Valley Alliance, explaining that the organization intended to be "as nonconfrontational as possible" but stating that the organization was "funded to litigate," if necessary. Both Mussmann and First Ward Supervisor John Musall reacted to this statement, declaring that it "sounded like a threat."

The LWRP will be taken up again tonight at 6:45 p.m., when a representative of BFJ Planning will make a presentation to the Common Council Legal Committee.


  1. The City attorney's offhand statement about the 400-foot dock extension being "just an idea" that was casually inseerted into the draft LWRP was indeed one of the more eye-opening moments of this meeting.

    Waterfront plans are supposed to be driven first and foremost by community consensus; the City attorneys's role is to provide the Council, as lead agency, with advice on legal questions -- not to insert hugely controversial and problematic "ideas" into a document on what was presented almost as a whim.

    Given that the dock extension idea was firmly rejected by the DOS in 2005, and Ms. Roberts was (in an outside capacity) closely involved with crafting HVPC's comments opposing that expansion, it somewhat strains credulity to accept that the City attorney did not realize the implications of "just" slipping this into the draft.

    Some aldermen at the meeting (understandably) indicated that they were not familiar with every line in the (excessively-lengthy) LWRP, and were similarly troubled that major components would be added without them being specifically called to their attention.

    The City Attorney repeatedly defended this handling by asserting that she "tried to arrange" workshops for the Aldermen; but all in all there seemed to be a bit too many fuzzy recollections and dates floating around in the discussion from those defending this flawed plan. (For example, the former Waterfront chair asked incredulously why there had not been talk of other options such as trying to buy "the waterfront and the mountain." But those of us who were closely involved with the formation of the WASC know that there were indeed both public and private discussions -- often lengthy ones -- of those very topics among the WASC members, including ones with the City Attorney and even State officials present.)

    However, what's far more important here is not to get too bogged down in unraveling the historical revisionisms and evident desire for perceived score-settling that at least one speaker last night seemed to think was the purpose of the meeting.

    The Valley Alliance's forward-looking goals and positive fundamental Waterfront assumptions can be read at the link below:

  2. From an observers stance - the discussion over the causeway is rather confusing to me.

    This has been of obvious concern yet Ms Roberts appears to be taking the side of O & G in making sure this is available for unconditional use.

    I just don't get the message she is actually looking out for the concerns and the interests of the citizens of Hudson - just those of O & G.

    Maybe it's a no-brainer but to see and hear it in action is painful.

    Thank goodness for The Valley Alliance to voice the other side of this saga.

  3. For a new-to-this-discussion reader, please explain "all the land that the City is hoping to acquire from Holcim." Does this explain Cheryl Roberts seemingly taking sides with O&G?

  4. Sorry, Anonymous. The land referred to is seven acres south of the existing docking area. It includes a place called Sandy Beach, where I'm told families used to swim in the 1930s and '40s (and probably before).

    This bit of land has been talked about since the 1996 Vision Plan when it was proposed that a park be created there with a commanding view of the Hudson-Athens lighthouse. At the time--a few years before the Greenport Project reared its ugly head--it was thought that SLC might be willing to give the City an easement over their property to access the new little park, but they refused. Of course, we now know why.

    It's questionable how desirable that seven acres actually is. The area was used for decades as a transfer point for Standard Oil, and some believe that it is seriously polluted.

  5. I believe the term "causeway" is a inaccurate description and that "railroad right of way" should be used.

  6. You are absolutely right, Chad. "Causeway" is inaccurate. But I use it--in quotes unless I forget--because that is the term that is being used now all the time in discussion of the abandoned railbed, which is what it is.

  7. I was quite alarmed at last night's meeting to hear Cheryl Roberts emphatically state that 'the causeway' is indeed a road, and would need no upgrading for O & G to use it for their trucks, since it had already been in use as a road and the new DEC permit received by O & G allows it. I actually thought the permit had been overturned and only referred to the section at the egress on 9G. The thought of 400 trucks rolling through the wetlands is not a pretty sight.

  8. Yes, the term "causeway" as Carole points out is inaccurate when describing this portion of "land". It never was meant to be a road for automobiles. It was a railroad bed with tracks and the tracks were removed in our lifetime. It is important to call it for what it is and not decide something different because someone thinks it should be otherwise (O&G). Now it sits in the middle of a precious, and should be protected, wetlands. No one should allow this portion to be used for a road.