Ever since Hudson instituted zoning back in the mid-1960s, the city has been saddled with bulk and area regulations that made it impossible, in the oldest parts of Hudson, to rebuild a house in its own footprint or to build a new house that conformed with the rest of the street without seeking an area variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
The disconnect between the city as it exists and the city as the zoning regulations envision it is often explained by saying that the city fathers back in the day adopted what was basically a suburban model for zoning. Someone who had been on the Planning Commission when the zoning was adopted, however, once explained that in the 1960s the planners figured that in time all the old houses in the First and Second wards would be destroyed by fire or demolished by neglect or intent, as most of them soon were in the Second Ward, and with the new houses set back 15 feet, they could widen the streets.
For almost fifty years, Hudson has lived with its inappropriate setbacks. Any new construction (fortunately there has been very little) routinely had to seek an area variance in order to achieve the most basic compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood. The zoning for the Waterfront Revitalization Area, which is part of the LWRP, was meant to correct the setback problem. Most of the neighborhoods for which 15-foot setbacks are inappropriate are in the Waterfront Revitalization Area. The problem is nobody seemed aware of this amendment.
Earlier this month, when the Historic Preservation Commission was agonizing over the inappropriate setback of the foundation at 215 Union Street, HPC counsel Carl Whitbeck delivered the standard recitation about setbacks and how the project would have to get an area variance from the ZBA in order to conform with the rest of the street wall. Although the LWRP--including this zoning amendment-- had been adopted by the Common Council in November 2011, city attorney Whitbeck admitted to having no knowledge of it existence.
When Gossips went looking for the setback amendment in the LWRP, what was found was Appendix G, a Design Guideline Template for the Waterfront Revitalization Area. Last Wednesday, when at its meeting the Legal Committee took up the discussion of making changes in the Schedule of Bulk and Area Regulations for Residential Districts, Gossips, from the audience, suggested that a priority should be amending the setback requirements. City attorney Cheryl Roberts pointed out that this had already been done and directed attention to footnote 4 on the bulk and area chart, which reads: "The Planning Board may approve a front yard setback that conforms with the prevailing building setback for the respective street on which a property is located."
If the goal is to protect the character of Hudson's historic neighborhoods, it seems the verb in this statement should be shall not may, and the statement should appear someplace more prominent than a footnote.
COPYRIGHT 2014 CAROLE OSTERINK