Last night, a representative of Stewart's Shops came before the Common Council Legal Committee seeking a zoning change to allow a new and larger Stewart's convenience store and gas station to be constructed at the corner of Green Street and Fairview Avenue. The proposal requires a zoning change, because the existing Stewart's Shop is a nonconforming use in an R-2 district. A nonconforming use stay as it is for as long as it likes, but any expansion is prohibited.
The expansion being proposed involves the acquisition and demolition of two houses adjacent to the current Stewart's site: 162 Green Street and 17-19 Fairview Avenue.
Stewart's is in contract to buy both houses but the sales are contingent on the City changing the zoning to allow them to pursue their plan for expansion.
The new store, which would look very much like every other Stewart's Shop of recent vintage (below is the Stewart's in Chatham), would sit at the northern end of the expanded lot with three gas pumps in front, set back from the street and arranged parallel to Green Street.
Needless to say, the term spot zoning, which is of course illegal, came up a few times during the discussion. The Stewart's representative suggested that the City might consider doing a retail overlay for the R-2 zone to create a transitional zone of mixed commercial and residential, citing other businesses established along Green Street and the proximity of the Stewart's site to the G-T-C (General Commercial Transitional) zone. Andy Howard, legal counsel to the Council, advised the committee that concerns about spot zoning should not "keep the Council from considering this."
The Stewart's representative brought up the City's Comprehensive Plan, which he said was "very reliant on visual appearance" and argued that the new building "can better meet this vision." Actually, the Comprehensive Plan stresses, as Goal 1, "protecting Hudson's distinctive architectural integrity and walkable character." This applies not only to the "downtown," i.e., Warren Street, but to the neighborhoods. Of particular mention in the Comprehensive Plan are the gateways: "Gateways play an important role in forming first impressions and welcoming visitors and residents alike. Both the form and the character of a gateway can influence the overall experience of a particular area." The Stewart's site, a block from the city limits, is at the gateway to Hudson for those entering by way of Route 23B.
After close to an hour of discussion, Howard asked, "What does the committee want to do?" He counseled the committee that they had two choices: they could say (1) "We're not interested"; or (2) "We're willing to consider this further." Despite the fact the the proposal runs counter to the original intention of the zoning and the Comprehensive Plan and is antithetical to the initiative to protect community character being pursued by the Economic Development Committee, the Legal Committee, made up of aldermen Michael O'Hara (First Ward), Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), Priscilla Moore (Fifth Ward), and Council president Claudia DeStefano, indicated they were willing to consider it further. The Stewart's representative offered to send the committee, through Howard, examples of zoning overlays that have been adopted in Saratoga Springs, Utica, and Malta, and the committee accepted the offer.
At some point in the conversation, O'Hara, who chairs the Legal Committee, called Green Street and the beginning of Fairview Avenue "a significant commercial corridor in the city." That seems like a bit of an overstatement. Despite the fact that Green Street is the most heavily trafficked street in Hudson, because the two truck routes through Hudson converge on Green Street, and several of the street's original houses have been lost or brutally altered beyond recognition, Green Street was never meant to be a "commercial corridor," and it isn't today. The same is true for Fairview Avenue--at least until it crosses the bridge and enters Greenport.
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