The Common Council didn't always meet twice a month. The practice wasn't introduced until 2000, when Ken Cranna was the mayor, and Mary Anne Lemmerman was Council president. The first meeting of the month--the informal meeting--was initiated to introduce new resolutions and legislation, giving the aldermen eight days to consider them before voting on them and also giving the public the opportunity to know what was before the Council before the aldermen voted. In the beginning, it was also a time when the public could express concerns, either on issues before the Council or new issues. Over time, with different Council presidents, the nature of the informal meeting has evolved, but it remains the meeting at which most resolutions and new legislation are introduced.
At the informal Council meeting on Monday night, the proposed amendment to the zoning code for R-2 and R-2H districts (now known as Local Law No. 5 of 2018) was introduced. Presenting the legislation, Council president Tom DePietro reminded everyone that this was "the beginning of a very long process." Later, he elaborated on that process, saying the amendment would have to go to the Hudson and Columbia County planning boards for a recommendation and noting that the amendment, if passed, would only allow any expansion of a nonconforming use to go before the Planning Board for site plan review.
Asked by DePietro to comment on the proposed amendment, John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee, where the amendment originated, explained that the zoning code was being amended for two "historic businesses"--a term now being used to describe any business that has existed for twenty years or more. He spoke of a community benefit agreement with Stewart's and talked about the need to "move forward and deal with problems." Moving forward and dealing with problems involves "retaining a planner to redo a comprehensive plan." This, Rosenthal said, "will cost a great deal of money," and because the City is "very stressed," he went on to say, "it is our job to engage [with 'corporate actors'] to our benefit." To synopsize, what is being proposed is that the City of Hudson change its zoning to accommodate the desire of Stewart's and presumably also Scali's--two nonconforming uses in districts zoned for one- and two-family houses (R-2) or one- and two-family houses with offices as a conditional use (R-2H)--to expand, demolishing residential properties in the process, in exchange for Stewart's giving the City, in a host community benefit agreement, some yet undetermined amount of money.
Alderman Eileen Halloran (Fifth Ward) proclaimed: 'The chairs of the Legal Committee [Rosenthal] and the Economic Development Committee [Rich Volo] and the city attorney [Andy Howard] are to be commended, because they came up with a solution."
City treasurer Heather Campbell wanted clarification: "They'll get to expand, knocking down buildings on either side, but who makes the decision if what they are offering in exchange is greater than what the City is giving up?" The answer given was the Common Council.
Responding to a question raised by Nick Zachos about a possible conflict of interest posed by "a corporation paying for a comprehensive plan that might benefit them," Rosenthal acknowledged the irony of "carving out exceptions to get money to redo a comprehensive plan when the comprehensive plan might not approve what was given up" but denied it would be a conflict of interest.
Although inviting aldermen and elected officials to comment on the proposed amendment, DePietro postponed public comment until the regular meeting of the Common Council on Tuesday, July 17. His reason for doing so seemed to be to allow time for Nick Pierro, assistant fire chief, to make a presentation to the Council--a presentation that had the effect of validating Rosenthal's assessment that the City is "very stressed." The Fire Department is in urgent need of 82 new oxygen bottles, 42 new air packs, and masks for each fire fighter--the total cost of which is "just under $354,000." Campbell characterized it as "a lot of money we weren't planning for." A bond resolution for the needed funds is expected to be presented to the Common Council at its meeting on July 17.
At the end of the meeting, when DePietro invited public comment, Fourth Ward supervisor Linda Mussmann asked, referring back to the discussion of the zoning amendment: "Is there a number connected to the host agreement?" In further comments, Mussmann complained that instead of fostering "lively discussion" DePietro "shuts it down." In responding, DePietro, in addition to indicating that no amount had been agreed to, asked Mussmann if she would like to report what she is doing on the county level.
On a motion from Alderman Kamal Johnson (First Ward), the meeting was adjourned, at approximately 7:35 p.m.
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