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.