At three hours, last night's Planning Board meeting was perhaps not the longest in history, but it was certainly the longest in recent memory, and the Council chamber at City Hall was packed with members of the public. The agenda included two controversial projects: the Stewart's expansion at Green Street and Fairview Avenue, and Colarusso's unauthorized repairs to the dock and the proposed haul through South Bay. Gossips will report on the meeting in two parts, the first dealing with the Stewart's proposal.
Chuck Marshall returned with new elevation drawings, this time showing a 3,700 square-foot building similar to the one in Troy.
He talked about the eight-foot retaining wall built of Versa-Lok blocks along the south side of the site, to be surmounted by a four-foot high vinyl fence. He talked of landscaping and curb islands and hedge maples. (According to the Central Park Conservancy website, "the hedge maple is an ornamental tree that is no longer widely planted in North America due to its invasive tendencies.") He also informed the Planning Board that the Department of Transportation was now involved with the project, and everything in the intersection or the roadway would have to be reviewed by DOT.
A representative from Creighton Manning then walked the Planning Board through the traffic study done last November. The essential message from the traffic study was that volume of traffic at the intersection was not expected to increase significantly when Stewart's bigger and better gas station and store were in place. In questioning from the Planning Board, it was revealed that the traffic study had not included a safety analysis of the intersection.
When the public hearing finally began, there were comments about the safety of the corner and concerns about light escaping from the facility impacting the houses across the street. Matthew Frederick, who had proposed six ways to tweak the design to make it better on this blog Hudson Urbanism, suggested the plan could be significantly improved by turning the store into a street-facing building. When Marshall asserted that the building Frederick was proposing was "almost the same building" as the one he was presenting, Frederick rejoined, "If you see this as not much different for what you're proposing, then why not do it?" He suggested the axiom Planning Board chair Walter Chatham had cited back in December--"The perfect is the enemy of the good"--should be instead "The better is the enemy of the bad."
The impact the expanded Stewart's would have on the immediate neighborhood and the entire city was a recurring theme in the public comments. Cynthia Lambert, who lives on Green Street, introduced it when she declared that she didn't know what Hudson had to gain from having a bigger Stewart's. "We are losing what people love about Hudson," Lambert said. "Making a bigger and better Stewart's is not the way to go."
Kurt Wehmann, who owns a house on Fairview Avenue directly across from Stewart's, asked what impact the Stewart's expansion would have on property values. He said that when he bought the house just last year the realtor told him not to buy the house because of the proposed Stewart's expansion, but he did "because he thought Hudson would do the right thing." Lambert cited three foreclosures on houses in close proximity to Stewart's (two across Green Street, the other right next door), a house next to Stewart's that had been unsellable until Stewart's bought it recently, a house on Green Street that was on the market for two years before being sold for half the asking price, and a house on Fairview Avenue that has been on and off the market for several years with no buyers. Frederick noted that the two properties immediately adjacent to Stewart's--the two properties that Stewart's has purchased and plans to demolish--were not in good shape because they were adjacent to a gas station.
The subject of the host community benefit agreement was raised by Nick Zachos, who said that he thought it was meant to "create a fund for affordable housing . . . to create as much affordable housing as is being taken away." Marshall told him there had to be "some kind of nexus" to the project and said that the Common Council has to negotiate the host community benefit agreement.
At one point, when Lambert repeated the questions "What exactly has Hudson to gain by this? Why are we doing this?" Chatham responded, glibly and one hopes facetiously, "We want people to come from all over the United States to see our Stewart's."
Dan Udell and his camera were present for the first 95 minutes of the three-hour meeting, and his video recording can be viewed here.
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