On June 13, 2017, the Village Planning Commission, worried about pedestrian safety as well as flooding and erosion (the site backs up on Vly Creek), requested an in-depth environmental review of the project. Stewart's threatened to sue. Chuck Marshall, real estate representative for Stewart's, complained to the Altamont Enterprise that, "of the over 300 shops operated by Stewart's . . . no other municipality had required an in-depth environmental review."
Two weeks later, on June 27, 2017, the Village Board adopted a moratorium on development to allow work on Voorheesville's first comprehensive land-use plan to be completed. The six-month moratorium could be extended by additional six-month periods, and in November 2017, it was. In May 2018, a draft of Voorheesville's new comprehensive plan was made available. The new plan, not yet adopted, rezones the area in which Smith's Tavern is located as the "Creekside Commercial District." The Altamont Enterprise explained the impact of the proposed new zoning:
That new district, under the proposed plan, would not allow for a Stewart's Shop let alone one with a gas station attached.
That's because as a "use," Stewart's Shop "does not promote the desired character for this district." Specifically, it is a "Formula Business," which according to the plan is "required by contractual or other arrangements to be virtually identical to businesses in other communities because of standardized architecture, services, merchandise, decor, uniforms and the like."As a consequence of the proposed new zoning, the Altamont Enterprise reported on June 14: "Stewart's Shops to sell former Smitty's." Marshall is quoted in the article as saying the property could be on the market "as soon as next week."
Compare the Stewart's story here in Hudson, which has some common elements: Stewart's desire to develop; a need for a new comprehensive plan (our current one was adopted in 2002); concern about formula businesses. The differences are: Stewart's is already here, has been here for forty-some years, and has been a nonconforming use for all that time; Hudson already has legislation in place banning formula businesses; the outcome of the story in Hudson is likely to be very different.
At its June 27 meeting, the Common Council Legal Committee, made up of John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward), who chairs the committee, Rich Volo (Fourth Ward), and Shershah Mizan (Third Ward), agreed to move forward to the full Council a new amendment to the zoning code in response to Stewart's, and now also Scali's (both nonconforming uses in a residential district), desire for a zoning change. The new amendment, which applies only to R-2 and R-2H districts, would allow "any building or portion thereof, the use of which is currently a non-conforming use within the zoning district," to be "renovated, replaced, and/or expanded," with these provisions:
(a) the non conforming use has been established and has operated continuously for a period of greater than twenty years in the R-2H zone;
(b) the owner demonstrates mitigation of impacts of the renovated building to the surrounding neighborhood to the satisfaction of the Planning Board. . . . Any mitigation required shall be set forth in resolution by the Planning Board and/or through a host community benefit of agreement between the owner and the City Council [sic] for the purposes of long term enforcement;
(c) the construction of the renovated building is completed upon the parcel or adjacent parcel(s) upon which the non-conforming building currently exists;
(d) the renovated building shall not be more than 1x greater than the existing structure of the non-conforming use;
(e) the construction of the renovated building shall create no new additional non-compliance with the Bulk and Area Regulations for the zoning district.This amendment seems worded to give Stewart's exactly what they want. They can build a new building twice the size of the current one and demolish two houses in the process, and the bugbear of spot zoning is avoided because the proposed changes will not benefit a single property owner. The owners of Scali's get to expand their building, too.
What's sweetening the deal is the "host community benefit agreement." The last time a corporation offered Hudson a host community benefit agreement it was St. Lawrence Cement, so many of us are conditioned to believe that nothing good comes with the offer of such an agreement. What was revealed at the Legal Committee meeting last Thursday is that the nature of the benefit being discussed is money to help finance a new comprehensive plan and comprehensive zoning revisions. These are two things that the City definitely needs. Our current comprehensive plan was done in 2002, and people are forever complaining about our antiquated zoning code, which was adopted fifty years ago and seems often to apply suburban planning principles to our very urban built environment. But unlike Voorheesville, where they put a moratorium on development until they completed their comprehensive plan, what's purposed in Hudson is amending the zoning to enable two fairly neighborhood altering projects and then, after the horse has left the barn, revising the comprehensive plan.
At the meeting, Gossips asked Rosenthal what if a revised comprehensive plan came to the conclusion that a super-sized Stewart's and a larger Scali's with a larger parking lot, with the loss of residential buildings such expansions would necessitate, wasn't in keeping with what the city envisions for its future. He said he didn't think that would happen, but he was willing to take the chance.
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