Wednesday, July 14, 2010

LWRP: The Six Policy Questions . . . Again

John Mason's report on Monday night's Common Council meeting appeared in Wednesday's Register-Star, and you can hear everything that happened for yourself online at WGXC, but here's the Gossips account of the evening at City Hall.

City Attorney Cheryl Roberts and BFJ Planning are in the process of categorizing the comments received about the draft LWRP during the public comment period and drafting responses. Roberts is handling the legal issues, BFJ the planning issues; but the Common Council's guidance is needed on six public policy issues. The six issues were presented by Roberts to the Council's Economic Development Committee on June 22 and the Legal Committee on June 23. On Monday night, a standing room only crowd gathered at City Hall to witness Roberts and BFJ Senior Planner Frank Fish present the policy issues to the full Council.

Of the six issues, the first two have the broadest impact: Does the Common Council still support a mixed-use "working waterfront"? Does the Common Council still wish to pursue the "causeway" as the preferred route to the deep-water dock? The Council is being asked about these two issues because the comments received make it clear that the community supports neither a "working waterfront" that keeps Holicm in control of the deep-water dock nor using the "causeway" to haul gravel through the South Bay.

In the discussion of the "mixed-use working waterfront," Fish seemed inappropriately determined to see Hudson's vision for its waterfront continue to accommodate Holcim/O&G. Citing as examples Newburgh and Yonkers, he said, "We've seen mixed use appropriate," and called it "a wise policy and prudent" to keep some industrial use on the waterfront "for jobs and history." The "mixed use" proposed for Hudson--with Holcim/O&G continuing to have exclusive use of the deep-water dock--hardly seems comparable to Newburgh and Yonkers. As questions raised both by Council members and the audience revealed, the nonrecreational use in Newburgh is the commuter ferry to Beacon and the "industrial use" in Yonkers is a sugar refinery that employs a lot of people. None of this seems comparable to gravel being hauled to the waterfront and loaded on barges or salt being stored on the dock.

More than once, Fish characterized the draft LWRP's vision for the waterfront as a "swing of the pendulum toward recreation." The problem with this image is that when a pendulum swings one way, it can just as easily swing back the other way. Common Council President Don Moore acknowledged this possibility when he cautioned that there "need to be some regulations that prevent us from allowing the camel's nose under the tent." Moore got that a little wrong. The camel's nose is already under the tent. It's the whole camel that we need to keep out, and the risk of that is very real. As Moore mentioned, O&G has "substantial expansion plans, but we don't know what they are."

The two means of eliminating Holcim/O&G from the waterfront--eminent domain and amortization--were both discussed, with Fish saying of eminent domain, "We don't recommend trying to take away someone's property rights," and Roberts saying of amortization, "I don't think that works either." Moore, however, stated emphatically toward the end of the meeting that eminent domain is not off the table.

On the issue of the "causeway," there's been a shift in thinking. Some variation of the L&B route, going either north or south around the abandoned L&B building, is now emerging as the "preferred route," although Roberts alluded to the sale of Basilica Industria to someone other than the City as an impediment to realizing this goal. What's being talked about now is a solution in two phases: Phase One is the temporary use of the "causeway"; Phase Two is a new low-impact public road around L&B. Alderman Ellen Thurston (Third Ward) gave voice to the fears of many about this plan when she pointed out that a two-phased solution makes it "easy to forget the second phase."

The fifth issue--the request by Scenic Hudson that the Hudsonia study of South Bay be made part of the LWRP--prompted more discussion than it has in the past. Roberts repeated her recommendation that it not be included "because the City did not create the report." Moore questioned why this distinction was important, and Fish offered as an explanation that "it might have financial implications for the City." When Moore talked about the South Bay symposium organized by Scenic Hudson and made it clear that he wanted the Hudsonia study in be included, Alderman Robert Donahue demanded, "Isn't it evident that Scenic Hudson is just trying to delay it [presumably the LWRP] and drag it out?" When Moore spoke of developing South Bay as a conservation area and park, Donahue scoffed, "It's never gonna happen. It's a swamp, and it's always been a swamp!"

At the end of the meeting, Moore allowed questions from the audience. Sam Pratt took the opportunity to ask why Roberts and Fish reported the number of comments received as 172 when several of the comments represented the opinions of large groups of people--an example being the comments from Save the South Bay, which were accompanied by a petition signed by 722 people, more than 250 of whom had made their own individual comments in addition to signing on to the statement made by the petition. Pratt asserted that it was inaccurate and misleading to say that were 172 comments when in truth there were closer to 900.

On the topic of comments, audience member Mary Mullane asked a telling question: "How many people on the Council have read the comments?" It turns out that none of the aldermen has. Roberts was quick to say "We are compiling those for you," but it would nice to think that the aldermen were reading the actual comments instead of relying on a condensation and distillation that may or may not be an accurate representation of what the community had to say.


  1. The cart is being put before the horse here.

    The "horse" is public input and community consensus. The "cart" is the Waterfront Plan.

    Now, the City has received nearly 900 comments on the draft Waterfront plan. The Valley Alliance has obtained copies of them, and has found only one (besides that of Holcim/O&G) which favors this heavy industrial expansion.

    So the "horse" is saying: the community wants to pull the cart in a different direction than the one in the draft plan.

    But Alderman are being asked whether their opinion has changed due to that public input—*without receiving any objective and substantive report on or analysis of those comments.* The slanted and paltry set of six questions posed do not constitute any real guidance, especially when Ms. Roberts characterizes the wishes of 99% of hundreds of commenters as that of "several" people.

    The City Attorney and Planner have rushed to put the cart in front of the horse, and urged the Alderman not to look back over their shoulders, so these drivers don't see that the horse is pulling off in another direction.

    Ideally, every Alderman would read every comment, and I hope they do. At the same time, given both the high volume of comments and the sometimes technical nature of those comments, it would be reasonable and useful for the Council to have the benefit of an in-depth guide to (and analysis of) the public's input. Such a guide and analysis would provide a palpable sense of the scope, depth, intensity and force of the public input.

    The City Attorney has indicated that she has started work on some sort of summary, but refuses to disclose it -- even to some Alderman -- until she's already finalized her recommendations.

    This gets the whole process backward -- to only provide such input at the end of the process, after the additional funding for LWRP review will have already been expended. Polling the Alderman first, and only providing them with a sense of the input months afterward creates a fait accomplit, and erases the community consensus on which such plans are supposed to be based.

    The City's "experts" seem to have the goal of protecting their draft work by shielding the Council as much as possible from the clearly-stated opinion of the public... much as they ignored the 1,000 comments received to the same affect in 2007. Horse, meet the back end of the cart.

  2. Soon after the deadline of comments I went to City Hall to read them. At that time I was asked to "sign-in" before going into chambers to read them. I wonder if they are still keeping a list, and if so, if it is "public record"?

  3. Besides WGXC, video of the council session (all 1 hour and 52 minutes of it) are available on Mid-Hudson Cable, channel 11 (in Hudson, anyway). Check the channel's schedule for air times/dates.

  4. Carole and Sam have a way of putting their own spin on issues that after a while even they start believing what they say. Hudson was born from the fruits of a hard working waterfront and it must remain that. Historic Preservation I believe Carole would say.

  5. Anonymous - sounds like you have a spin of your own.

    The past is just that - past.
    This is now - time for a new town & her waterfront.
    It's time to be a part of the solution for the 21st c instead of the problem.

  6. Oh please, Hudson is a million things in the last two hundred some odd years, and if anyone has a problem seeing the direction of Hudson right now they need to get their eyes checked. And that's obviously your problem anonymous. Your kind have a real problem with kicking a gift horse in the mouth. Its because your scared, your scared you'll lose your grip on the dejected decrepit Hudson you became so accustomed to. Grow up. I applaud Sam and Carole for their continued perseverance in face of such astounding ignorance.

  7. And secondly, Anyone who uses Newburgh and Yonkers as successful mixed-use waterfronts is a Philistine, much less a student of urbanism. Go visit those waterfronts before you carry on about their success. Argh. Why! Why such ignorance is acceptable governance (much less legal counsel) will continue to Amaze me.

  8. And I know its You're, not your, but damn does all this petty BS stopping us from having a mature, intelligent, and wisely vested City makes Me Furious.

  9. Is Dr Zizmor Carole and Sam's Agent? If you think you're furious now, stay tuned.By the way Doc, you discovered Hudson how and have contributed when? Can't say I have ever heard the name in any circle.

  10. Anonymous, the joke is on you. Dr. Zizmor was a dermatologist whose ads were all over the subways and buses in NYC for years. You'd know that if you'd ever traveled farther than Dunkin Donuts on Fairview.

  11. Sounds like Anonymous would do well to broaden his circle. It just might surprise him what's actually outside his door!

  12. Mullane has two Ls.

  13. shame on me for not seeing those ads on nyc buses or subways. you're right he must be very knowledgable in waterfront development being a dermatolgist. He sounds very mean-spirited in that only his opinion counts. Thank Gor for Pro-Active.

  14. Doc Z will gladly remove moles from your body that do not need removing for $800 a pop.

    Swamp is an S word, just like the N word. The correct term is wetland. Wetlands are among the most valuable and beautiful landscapes on earth. Converting conservation land to industrial land to service dump trucks hauling gravel onto wetlands is A.. backwards thinking. Dumping garbage or industrial materials into rivers and/or their embankments is a part of history that needs to be buried, not preserved.

  15. "Dumping garbage or industrial materials into rivers and/or their embankments is a part of history that needs to be buried, not preserved"

    Oh yeah? well then everyone should go see a dump being unburied this week at the waterfront park.

    Who is overseeing it and with what precautions? Will riprap banks be put in, that were so important to NY state along the rest of the park's banks? Who is choosing what trees to save? Rob Perry?! Where is the DECnow? The DOS? Will Valley Alliance say something please?

    It's good to know a municipality can still do whatever it wants, mother nature and the state be damned.