Friday, April 18, 2014

Zoning and Development Conundrums

On Tuesday night, the Common Council took the first step toward altering the Schedule of Bulk and Area Regulations in Residential Districts to amend what is believed to be a requirement that apartments in the R-4 district be a minimum of 1,500 square feet.

The legislation introduced would amend the Schedule of Bulk and Area Regulations in the following ways: 
1) DELETING "Lot area:" in the second line of the chart; and
2) INSERTING "of lot", following "(square feet)" in the third line of the chart; and
3) INSERTING the following sentence in footnote 3 at the end thereof: "The Planning Board may, at its discretion authorize a zero side yard set back for one side yard where a structure has two side yards."; and
4) DELETING "1,500" and REPLACING it with "500" in the R-4 Multiple Dwellings, Lot area: Per dwelling unit (square feet) column.
The amendment to Chapter 325 of the city code was undertaken with some urgency after the Planning Board had, on the previous Wednesday, determined that three projects before them, representing a potential of eighteen new apartments in the city, had to apply to the Zoning Board of Appeals for an area variance, based on the alleged 1,500 square foot requirement.

None of those three projects came before the ZBA this past Wednesday. Instead, a different project, also requiring an area variance but for a different reason, came before the board on a night when Russ Gibson was sitting in for ZBA chair Lisa Kenneally and John Tingley was pinch hitting for ZBA counsel Dan Tuczinski. The proposal, presented by Stephen Dunn, is to build a new structure on Rope Alley behind 235 and 237 Robinson Street that would contain garage spaces for five cars on the ground floor and an 800 square foot apartment on the second floor. The proposed project requires an area variance not because the apartment would be smaller than 1,500 square feet. The regulation, as it is understood, applies only to apartments in multiple unit dwellings not to single family dwelling or a single apartment in an accessory building. Setbacks are the reason the project was denied a building permit and sent to the ZBA.

Dunn owns three properties on Robinson Street: 233, 235, and 237. There are two-family houses on 233 and 237; 235 is vacant.

233 Robinson Street

235 Robinson Street

237 Robinson Street
The proposed structure would be built on Rope Alley, behind the house at 237 Robinson Street and extending across the vacant lot at 235 Robinson Street. The building would be set back one and a half feet from Rope Alley, it would be built right to the lot line of 237 Robinson, and it would encroach about one and a half feet onto 233 Robinson Street, where it would abut an existing garage to be moved from the back of the vacant lot at 235 to behind the house at 233 Robinson Street. Although the proposed building would be on Rope Alley, the entrance to the living space would be from the vacant lot, which Dunn intends to keep vacant and landscape.

Dunn plans to renovate both 233 and 237 Robinson Street as two family houses, which is what they are now, and he is committed to providing one enclosed garage space for each unit. He is also committed to not building anything at the front of 235 Robinson Street, wanting instead to maintain it as an open landscaped space. His goal is to decrease the density on Robinson Street, which in his expressed opinion is "horrible"--an opinion not shared by those interested in preserving neighborhood character.

In 2011, Historic Hudson initiated an effort to make Robinson Street a historic district. The application for designation presented to the Historic Preservation Commission began with this statement:
Robinson Street is a unique survivor of a nineteenth-century working class neighborhood in the City of Hudson. The street, located in the city’s Second Ward between North Third and North Second Streets, represents the type of urban domestic architecture once common in the City of Hudson, much of which was demolished during urban renewal in the 1970’s. Fortunately, the vernacular structures that characterize the architecture of Robinson Street were spared. This quiet street, and related buildings that make up the Robinson Street Historic District on North Third and North Second Streets, is the only intact nineteenth-century neighborhood left in the Second Ward. The Robinson Street neighborhood is a distinctive and valuable part of the city’s architectural, economic, and cultural history.
As a footnote to Historic Hudson's statement, it's interesting to note that in the assessment of neighborhoods in the 1965 Comprehensive Development Plan, Robinson Street, along with Sacred Heart Church and its rectory on Second Street on the west end of Robinson Street, was the only part of the North Bay Neighborhood that escaped being judged substandard.

The attempt to make Robinson Street a historic district was notoriously unsuccessful, which is good thing for Dunn. His project will require approval by the ZBA and the Planning Board but not a certificate of appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission.

The ZBA will hold a public hearing on the proposal on Wednesday, May 21, at 6 p.m.


  1. Maybe I missed something obvious, but why no Historic Preservation Commission involvement in Dunn's proposal?

    1. You did miss something obvious. Robinson Street is not a historic district. The attempt to make it so failed.

  2. Senior moment. Thanks. I read that and didn't retain it!

  3. What are the minimums for Bliss Towers and Hudson Terrace?

  4. How I loved visiting my grandmother and aunts at 237 Robinson Street. My grandmother emigrated from Poland via Ellis Island and raised her many children there. Her eldest son, my father was an altar boy, a young teen at the time when the Sacred Heart Church opened their doors for the first time in 1938. There is a photo of this online. My Polish-speaking 'Grammy" walked to down Robinson near daily to go to say prayers at the church. She had a fence and garden to the right and back of the house. I have many pics of her grandkids out back in the 50's. The area is beyond historic to me, as I recall the first polka I had behind the church in their pavilion. Good energy to anyone who lives there one day.

  5. I will comment further later (just got home to California), but I want to make clear that I don't think the density of Robinson Street is "horrible," just that losing that green space with another building put on it, rather than landscaping it, with the apartments reoriented to face it and have more light, would be "horrible," at least to me. Other reasonable minds may differ. I think Robinson Street as it is is simply splendid. I love the street, and so far, have really enjoyed meeting all of my soon to be new neighbors that I have met. They have all very happy about what I am doing it seems. In any event, the density comment that I made was a legal one, because the Code as written is anti density, and thus the degree of my variance that I am requesting still entails less density than the Code requires. The newspaper article sort of got that spin a bit wrong too. I just did not choose my words carefully enough. Sorry about that.

    Thanks as always for your fine coverage Carole. I appreciate it.


    Steve Dunn

    And downeastxg, I will get in touch with you, and give you a tour of what I am doing. I would love to hear more of your stories. I have met so many folks who grew up or had relatives on Robinson Street. Every moment that I am in Hudson, is a good moment, even when I was wandering the streets for half the night having been accidentally locked out of the apartment where I was staying on Warren Street, renting a room, and had nothing but my wallet, and no cell phone, so I had no access to the phone numbers of anyone. Separating yourself from your cell phone is not a good idea I have learned!

    1. Hi Steve- I live in Eastport, Maine these days. Best wishes. My website:
      (aka downeastxg) I'd be happy to scan a few pics of the side area with our 'clan' (1952 etc) for you. email me at for the fun of it.