Tuesday, August 20, 2019

On the Playing Fields of Hudson

Two weeks ago, Gossips posted about the plan to renovate Barrett Field for use as a new baseball field, reporting on the opposition to the plan and HCSD's statement about the plan. Yesterday, Gary Sheffer published a post on his blog Spokesman about the field and its history: "Fencing in History." It is recommended reading.

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Media Attention to the Dog Park

In anticipation of the Common Council vote on the resolution later today, the Register-Star has an article about the dog park: "Hudson dog park is a vote away." The article reports that Alderman Dewan Sarowar, who represents the Second Ward, the ward in which the dog park will be located, "has received no negative comments regarding the new proposal for the park." According to the article, Sarowar called it "a good project" and went on to say, "People have been asking for a dog park for a long time, and now it is finally time for it to come true." Amen.


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Monday, August 19, 2019

Trucks in the City

At about 6:15 p.m. today, a truck "came barreling down Columbia Turnpike" and struck several power lines before coming to a stop. It should be noted that Columbia Turnpike is not a truck route. The reader who witnessed the incident and alerted Gossips also supplied these pictures.

Photo: Gabriel Garay





Photo: Gabriel Garay
Bill Williams of 98.5 The Cat reported that the errant tractor trailer pulled down live wires, which fell across the roadway and onto the top of the truck. The Hudson Fire Department was called, and Columbia Turnpike was closed from Prospect Avenue to Paul Avenue. National Grid arrived to make repairs, and by 8:00 p.m., when Gossips learned of the incident and went to the scene to check things out (and also to give Joey a little walk in the cemetery), everything appeared to have been put right.
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Meetings and Events in the Week Ahead

The weather this week is expected to be hot and humid, with occasional thunderstorms or showers predicted for three of the five weekdays. But on most days there are meetings to keep you indoors where it's dry.
  • Tonight, Monday, August 19, Citizens' Climate Lobby meets here in Hudson at Christ Church Episcopal, 431 Union Street. The meeting is from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Those attending for the first time are encouraged to attend an orientation session at 5:30 p.m. If you are interested in being at the meeting, contact brucefrishkoff@gmail.com.
  • On Tuesday, August 20, the Common Council Finance Committee meets at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall. No agenda for the meeting is available at this time for this meeting, but it is possible that the proposed contract with East Light Partners, to provide community solar to the City of Hudson to power municipal buildings and streetlights, will be discussed. 
  • At 7:00 on Tuesday, August 20, the full Council holds its regular monthly meeting. Resolutions of interest to be voted on at the meeting are the resolution authorizing the creation of a dog park and the resolution authorizing the Tourism Board to proceed with its strategic destination identity study. It is also expected that the Council will vote on entering into a contract with East Light Partners. Alderman Rich Volo (Fourth Ward), who chairs the Economic Development Committee and the Tourism Board, has published informational posts about the Tourism Board and its proposed study and the proposed contract with East Light Partners on his blog Fourth Ward Hudson. Gossips has also published posts on these two topics: the proposed Tourism Board study and the community solar proposal   
  • On Wednesday, August 21, the Common Council Public Works and Parks Committee meets at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall. Gossips has received word that DPW superintendent Rob Perry will not be present at the meeting to present his monthly report, and committee chair Eileen Halloran (Fifth Ward) has invited Sarah Sterling, who heads up the Hudson Parks Conservancy, to talk about the group and its goals.
Also on Wednesday, August 21, the Zoning Board of Appeals meets at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall. Last Tuesday, the Planning Board referred the proposal to develop a self storage facility, described by one Planning Board member as "twenty shacks on a swath of land," at the corner of Fairview Avenue and Oakwood Boulevard, to the ZBA. It is not clear if that proposal will be taken up by the ZBA at this meeting or no
  • On Thursday, August 22, the Hudson Parks Conservancy is hosting a bring-your-own-supper picnic on Promenade Hill. The event, which begins at 7:00 p.m. and ends when the sun sets, replicates a gathering of the Vision Plan Task Force that took place twenty-five years ago and is being described as an opportunity to gather with friends, neighbors, and fellow parks advocates "to talk about this historic public space and plans for its restoration and to enjoy the view and the sunset."
  • On Friday, August 23, the Historic Preservation Commission holds its second meeting of the month at 10:00 a.m. at City Hall.
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Sunday, August 18, 2019

What's in a Name?

I always found it sardonically appropriate that T. Eric Galloway, who through his various not-for-profits and LLCs now owns upwards of ninety properties in Hudson and a few more in Greenport, named his most recent LLC "Hudson Collective Realty." I was similarly struck by the irony of the name of the company that has taken over the restoration of this house on South Third Street, at a major gateway to the city, which has been going on now for a very long time: "Perennial Development."

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Saturday, August 17, 2019

Prohibition and Hudson

The Eighteenth Amendment, which prohibited "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors," was ratified on January 16, 1919. The Volstead Act, which provided for the enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment, was passed on October 28, 1919. But even before the Volstead Act was passed, Prohibition was having an impact on Hudson. Last month, Gossips shared reports from the Columbia Republican that indicated C. H. Evans Brewing Company had switched to producing a non-intoxicating beverage called "Checona," while the saloonkeepers of Hudson worried about how they would stay in business.


The editorial page of the Columbia Republican for August 12, 1919, contained two items that addressed Prohibition. The first talks about the mock-tails of the day.


A little research into Prohibition mock-tails suggests that the names created for the drinks--for example, Klondike Fizz, Prohibition Sour, Minnehaha Maid--were often very local in nature. The Minnehaha Maid was invented at a soda foundation somewhere in Minnesota. Given that mock-tails are trending, it would be fun to know the names and recipes for the drinks with the "intricate and 'jazzy'" names being ordered in Hudson a hundred years ago.

The second item on the editorial page of the Columbia Republican for August 12, 1919, comments on the "false hope" that folks might still be legally permitted to make cider and wine in their own homes for their own use.

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Friday, August 16, 2019

Redefining "Civic Center"

Wikipedia provides two definitions for civic center. The first is an area within a city that is its focal point or center and usually contains one or more dominant public buildings. The second is a multipurpose arena that is a venue for sporting events, theater, concerts, and similar events. In the city where I grew up, we had both kinds of civic center: a public square in the center of town, known as Centennial Park, which was bordered by City Hall, the library, and the post office; and a multi-purpose arena, where the two local high schools and the local college played their basketball games, plays and concerts were performed, trade shows took place, and all manner of community events were held. Given that understanding of civic center, I was puzzled to hear the term applied last night to what is being envisioned for the former John L. Edwards School building.

Last night, Mark Thaler and Alex Messina from Lacey Thaler Reilly Wilson, the firm that is doing a feasibility study on relocating city offices and various city services to the surplus school building, met with community members to get input about what the 90,000 square foot building might accommodate. What's currently being explored for relocation are all the offices and functions of City Hall, the Code Enforcement Office, the Youth Department, and the Senior Center. 

At present, the lowest floor--A Level--is being considered as a new location for the Youth Department. A Level is where the school gym and the girls' and boys' locker rooms were located. B Level--the next level up--was designed to be a fallout shelter. (John L. Edwards was built in 1964, still the Cold War Era.) B Level also contains the mechanicals. C Level is the main floor, which most of us are familiar with. It was proposed that the Senior Center could be relocated there, to occupy what had been the school's offices and the cafeteria. That leaves D Level, what appears to be the second floor when the building is viewed from the State Street side. According to Thaler, "All City Hall functions could fit on that level." It didn't appear that there would be a dedicated Common Council chamber on D Level, so it would seem Council meetings would be held in one of the large multi-function rooms on the main floor--C Level. (What's to become of the Henry Ary portrait of George Washington?) The building currently has one elevator, which was installed in 2003 or 2004.

According to Thaler, with City Hall, the Youth Department, the Senior Center, and Code Enforcement in the building, there would be 20,000 to 30,000 square feet of building left over, and he invited people to share their ideas. Carol Gans, a former principal of John L. Edwards, said there was a critical need for day care and early education, and the west wing of C Level, which had recently been rehabbed for primary grades, was "made for little kids." Gans, who is involved with the Hudson Day Care Center, told Thaler, "One of our dreams is to have a place for a 24-hour day care facility." She maintained that the west wing of C Level, immediately below the space being proposed for city government offices, is perfect for little kids and minimal renovation would be needed to make it suitable for infants as well. Gans argued that "day care should to be equal to the Youth Center." 

Sher Stevens, the director of the Senior Center, now located in the Galvan Armory, complained that the space being proposed for the Senior Center in JLE was not enough. She was told that it is more than the Senior Center currently has, but she insisted that much more was needed.

A representative from COARC's Starting Place, which sold its building on Prospect Avenue to Columbia Memorial Health in 2016, said the program is looking for 7,000 square feet of space with a small fenced playground. The program offers both a special education preschool and day care. She said the program served four counties, and they wanted somewhere within walking distance. She also said children from fourteen school districts were in their programs, but the children came primarily from the Hudson City School District. In the spring of 2017, the Planning Board reviewed plans to relocate the COARC Starting Place program to the basement of the Galvan Armory, but that plan apparently was never pursued.   

Chad Weckler, representing Hudson-Creative, said his group was looking for 3,000 to 8,000 square feet for a makerspace, which he described as "a community center for learning and mentoring." He reported that a survey the group had done indicated that the "number one request" was for a woodworking shop, followed by a metalworking shop--both "dirty" endeavors that required a space that was vented. Weckler said that space and startup capital was needed, but they had been unable to attract startup capital because they had no space.

Both Weckler and Stevens wanted to know if it would be possible to add on to the building. Thaler reminded them, "We have excess space already, which makes the investigation of expanding the building not critical." Linda Mussmann said there was a "huge need" for a commercial kitchen and wondered if the kitchen in the school could be used for that purpose. Malachi Walker said there should be an outdoor basketball court, and Tiffany Garriga expressed the desire for a swimming pool. Dominic Merante asked if the building could be a shelter if there are power outages in the city, possibly thinking of the recent power outage at Bliss Towers. (Apparently, the building has a huge generator.) Stevens suggested that each program serving children should have its own playground, to which Thaler responded, "It wouldn't be my first choice to have a playground out front." Kamal Johnson noted that a group of Bangladeshi men are now playing cricket in front of the building and said, "We need to provide a place for them."

Nick Zachos said he was excited about the possibility of the Youth Department moving into the building, but instead of a horizontal space, on A Level, he wanted the Youth Department to have a vertical space, from C Level--the main floor--to A Level, where the gymnasium is. It was Zachos who suggested that we "start looking at [the building] as a civic center."

During the course of the meeting, Council president Tom DePietro revealed that the plan to acquire the surplus school building and relocate city offices and services there involved selling several City-owned buildings--to get them back on the tax rolls. Those buildings are 520 Warren Street (City Hall), 429 Warren Street (Code Enforcement Office), 10 Warren Street (Hudson Day Care Center), 18 South Third Street (Youth Center), and 1 North Front Street (Chamber of Commerce).

  

Regarding the sale of 18 South Third Street, former mayor Rick Scalera noted that there were constraints on the sale of the building. When the City took the building over from the Boys and Girls Club early in this century, it was agreed the building could only be sold to another entity that provided youth services--which limits the potential buyers and likely eliminates the possibility of getting the building back on the tax rolls.

Correction: Rick Scalera, who was mayor when the City took over the Boys and Girls Club, has clarified his statement: The deed constraints require that the profit from the sale of the building must be used to provide a new facility for the Youth Department. See his comment on this post.

When someone asked what the adaptive reuse of the school would cost, Thaler replied, "Move into a school, and it looks like a school," before explaining that the estimated costs, which will be part of the completed feasibility study, will have to be a range--from having a building that still looks like a school to one whose interior design is suited to its new uses. On the topic of cost, Scalera observed that a building of that size represented "a huge amount of utility costs" and asked, "Who is going to pay for that?" DePietro said that part of the feasibility study involved looking at ways to make the building more energy efficient. Later, Zachos said he could not imagine "how all these functions now in drafty old brick buildings would not be saving money in this newer building." 
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Work on the Charles Alger House

A few weeks ago, the Charles Alger House, 59 Allen Street, became shrouded with plastic. I know from code enforcement officer Craig Haigh that such shrouding is an EPA requirement when removing paint that may have lead in it. This morning, it was clear that this is exactly what's happening.


The house has been painted yellow for a least a quarter of a century, but there is some evidence that the brick wasn't always painted. In this picture, probably taken in the early 1940s, the brick appears to be unpainted. 

The work on the building has so far not come before the Historic Preservation Commission for a certificate of appropriateness. In June, when I asked Haigh about work being done on the building, which included demolition of additions on the south side of the building, I was told the owner, Hudson Collective Realty (a Galvan entity), was "working on putting their CofA app together for the HPC" and was "cleaning up the property and exploring the conditions of what needs to be done for their design professional and the HPC." Haigh also assured me, "The renovation permit will not be issued until they have a CofA."



This is an important house in Hudson, one of three in the city with links to the preeminent 19th-century American architect Alexander Jackson Davis. The Dr. Oliver Bronson House was designated a National Historic Landmark for its association with Davis. Charles Alger, the original owner of the house, was Davis's patron, and he and his house in Hudson are mentioned in Davis's day books. An A. J. Davis scholar who visited the house a few years ago, shortly after Galvan acquired it, reported that some of the interior woodwork showed definite Davis influence. Given the significance of the house, I would be a lot happier if the HPC were involved a little earlier in the process.
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Sunset Supper on Promenade Hill

Twenty-five years ago, on a late-summer evening in 1994, members of the Vision Plan Task Force gathered for a bring-your-own-supper picnic on Promenade Hill.

Next Thursday, August 22, the Hudson Parks Conservancy is re-creating that event. Folks are invited to gather at Promenade Hill with a picnic supper and a blanket or a chair and join friends, neighbors, and fellow parks advocates to talk about this historic public space and plans for its restoration and to enjoy the view and the sunset. Click here to indicate your interest in attending. 

Should next Thursday bring bad weather, the event will be postponed to the following Thursday, August 29.
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Thursday, August 15, 2019

Meeting Canceled

The meeting of the Common Council Housing and Transportation Committee, scheduled to take place at 5:00 p.m. today, has been canceled. There is no word on whether or not the meeting will be rescheduled.
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Also on the Agenda

In addition to the continuation of the public hearing on Colarusso's application for two conditional use permits, the Planning Board conducted two other public hearings on Tuesday night: on the expansion of the FASNY Museum of Fire Fighting, and on the proposed self-storage facility on Fairview Avenue and Oakwood Boulevard. 

The presentation of the FASNY Museum expansion included a "tour" of the re-imagined site, featuring the Arrival Plaza, the Demonstration Plaza, and the relocated Memorial Plaza, which will "bookend" with the Ceremonial Plaza. The word celebratory was used at least three times in describing the new landscape design, and the visuals included a "mood board," which caught the fancy of Planning Board chair, Walter Chatham.

After a few comments from the public and a review of the completed short SEQR form by city attorney Andy Howard, the Planning Board made a negative declaration and unanimously approved the site plan.

The application for a special use permit to create a self-storage facility on the vacant lot at the corner of Fairview Avenue and Oakwood Boulevard didn't fare as well.

Alderman Eileen Halloran, who represents the Fifth Ward, where the facility would be located, spoke on behalf of her constituents. She expressed concerns about traffic and confusion about where to enter and exit the facility. She stated that self-storage facilities do not exist in Hudson and asked, "If approved once, will this idea be applied elsewhere?" She asserted, "The neighbors do not want it." On that same theme, Brian Nicholson said the proposed facility "does not fit with the aesthetics of the neighbothood." Theresa Nicholson declared, "A lot of residents are very incensed," and made reference to a petition opposing the facility that had been signed by 35 to 40 people. Halloran announced her intention to propose a Council resolution banning such facilities from the City of Hudson.

When the public hearing was over and the Planning Board began its discussion of the project, board member Betsy Gramkow suggested that the public hearing be kept open for ten days to receive written comments. Having made that suggestion, Gramkow noted that warehouse storage was mentioned in the code but nowhere in the code was self storage or mini storage mentioned. City attorney Andy Howard explained how he and code enforcement officer Craig Haigh had arrived at the determination that the proposed facility could be allowed. "If Craig and I had felt there was an ambiguity, we would have sent it to zoning." He went on to say it was significant that "nowhere in the code is storage banned."

Board member Laura Margolis maintained that what was proposed had little similarity to storage units in her experience, calling the proposed facility "twenty shacks on a swath of land." Chatham opined, "We find ourselves with a zoning code that didn't anticipate something," and continued, "Will it impair the quality of the existing neighborhood? That is the essential question." Carmine Pierro, whose proposal it is, protested, "This is a General Commercial zone, and you're telling me it doesn't fit?"

In the end, Gramkow moved that "the Zoning Board of Appeals review and determine if mini storage is an appropriate use in the General Commercial District." The motion passed unanimously.
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The Acquisition Continues

On July 9, Gossips reported intel from the July Planning Board meeting: Chatham Printing & Copy Center had purchased Johnny's Ideal Printing--the business not the buildings--and was relocating it to the ground floor of 25 North Fifth Street, a building owned by Galvan Asset Management. When Gossips asked Jason O'Toole, director of property management for Galvan, who was presenting the proposal to relocate the business, what was happening with the two buildings on Warren Street, he said he didn't know.

Now we know that they have both been acquired by Galvan Partners LLC for $730,000.


Another recent acquisition by Galvan Partners is 534 State Street, purchased for $220,000.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Of the Planning Board and 4.4 Waterfront Acres

Last night, the performance hall at Hudson Hall was the scene of the Planning Board meeting. Although there was other business on the agenda, the reason most people had shown up was the continuation of the public hearing on Colarusso's applications for two conditional use permits--one for its dock activity, the other for its industrial road through South Bay.

Of the fifteen people who made statements during the public hearing, fourteen expressed concerns about Colarusso and its negative impacts on the city and the waterfront and urged the Planning Board to make a positive declaration and do a full Environmental Impact Study under SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act). Several speakers quoted the City's LWRP and made reference to the decision by Supreme Court Justice Michael Melkonian at the beginning of this year, dismissing Colarusso's lawsuit against the City of Hudson. 

The lone defender of Colarusso, Dominick Kappel said he had done his own study of trucks at Third and Columbia streets and reported that only 198 of the 268 that passed there were Colarusso trucks. (He didn't indicate the time frame for his observation.) He called on the Planning Board to "approve the road" for safety reasons and concluded by declaring: "Colarusso has been here for a hundred years and will stay here for a hundred years." Later in the hearing, he claimed that "Colarusso secured that $10 million DRI grant." 

In his comments, Sam Pratt made the point, as Gossips did in a post last week, that nothing was preventing Colarusso from building its industrial road from Route 9G to the quarry and getting trucks off city streets now. Gossips said the City was being bullied. Pratt pulled no punches and called it "blackmail." Pratt challenged Paul Colarusso, who was in the audience: "Do it tomorrow if you really want to help Columbia Street."

In her comments, Melissa Auf der Maur brought up a topic that we have heard very little about in the past six years: the 4.4 acres south of the dock, which were transferred illegally in a land swap in 1981 between the City with the cement company that became Holcim and which therefore still belong to the City of Hudson. Speaking of this parcel of land, Auf der Maur declared, "The City owes it to its people to provide access to the waterfront."

This parcel has a long history that some may have forgotten and others may never have known. The 1996 Vision Plan imagined a use for the land south of the dock and suggested the City "try to secure an easement for bicycles and pedestrians on the existing road to allow access to the southern open space and South Bay" and also made these recommendations: 
Southern Open Space  This area consists of two land projections into the Hudson River. It is bordered by the rail lines to the east and by the Independent Cement Company to the north. . . . Potential uses of this would include leaving the land as open space. There also may be the opportunity to encourage fishing along these edges. A second alternative would be to provide a boat ramp in the existing embayments. Another alternative may be to create a boat ramp at the southern land projection with limited parking at that site. . . . 
Hudson's Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP), adopted by the Common Council in 2011, proposed for this site what it called the South Bay Riverfront Park/Beach.


The park envisioned for this parcel is described on page 133 of the LWRP:
An opportunity exists to establish additional park land on the southern portion of the Holcim property. The approximately seven acre vacant property offers two tidal basins including a small beach area, existing woodlands and over 1,500 feet of riverfront. These features combine to make this a potentially significant open space and recreational asset for the community. Subject to a feasibility study including an assessment of whether contamination exists on the property, the LWRP envisions creation of a park for swimming, fishing, and passive recreation opportunities, in addition to hiking, biking and nature trails. . . .
Page 128 of the LWRP acknowledges, "Creation of the South Bay Riverfront Park . . . is dependent upon obtaining some form of title or ownership to the approximately 7 acres of riverfront land owned by Holcim and located south of their port."

The LWRP was adopted by the Common Council at the end of November 2011, and for the next couple of years, city government seemed to be devoted to getting those seven acres, which turned out to be closer to ten acres--9.96 acres to be exact. The people of Hudson were given to understand that acquiring that parcel was a condition for the Department of State to review and approve the LWRP. In September 2012, Mayor William Hallenbeck, in an interview on WGXC, reported that Holcim was weighing its options, which included selling the parcel to some entity other than the City of Hudson. Hallenbeck also said the City was considering taking the parcel by eminent domain. In February 2013, the Common Council passed a "Resolution Authorizing the Transfer of Riverfront Land to the City of Hudson."
The Mayor is hereby authorized and directed to enter into all documents and contracts necessary to effectuate transfer of the Parcel and related easements to the City of Hudson upon review of said documents by the Corporation Counsel, and to provide documentation for a tax credit to Holcim for transferring the Parcel as a gift to the City. 
Although the City was ready to enter into an agreement, Holcim was not. The contract had been prepared, by Holcim's own attorneys, but Holcim was not signing it. In April 2013, the Council passed a resolution rescinding the February resolution if Holcim did not sign the documents transferring ownership of the property by May 15, 2013. That didn't happen, and an email from then city attorney Cheryl Roberts to Holcim attorney Donald Stever, sent on January 30, 2013, secured in a FOIL request by The Valley Alliance, revealed why. On the topic of the land transfer, Roberts wrote:
The City is prepared and will move forward with eminent domain proceedings at its February meeting unless your client is prepared to move forward with this transaction. The City may also be prepared to meet with the private entity to whom Holcim is selling the property and Holcim if such a meeting would be of assistance.
Then on June 3, 2013, The Valley Alliance announced a surprising discovery: the City already owned 4.4 of the 9.9 acres it was negotiating with Holcim to acquire.

In 1981, the City of Hudson had swapped the 4.4 acres on the waterfront for an upland parcel owned by the cement company, and that exchange had been in violation of General City Law § 20 (Chapter 247 of the 1913 Laws of New York), which bars the alienation of waterfront lands: "the rights of a city in and to its water front, ferries, bridges, wharf property, land under water, public landings, wharves, docks, streets, avenues, parks, and all other public places, are hereby declared to be inalienable."

The discovery was greeted with skepticism, and the City spent several months vetting The Valley Alliance's research. But on October 15, Moore announced that the title search commissioned to test the veracity of the assertion confirmed that The Valley Alliance was right: the City was negotiating with Holcim for land it already owned. Moore's statement was reported by Gossips the next day and recorded in the minutes of the Common Council.

Now, the skepticism seems to have returned. Last night, responding to Auf der Maur, Walter Chatham, who chairs the Planning Board, said, "This board cannot address the issue of ownership." Chatham claimed the board had no proof to support the claim that the City still owned the 4.4 acres. Planning Board member Laura Margolis asked, "If we have no proof, can we send someone out to seek the proof?" At which time, Pratt interjected, "The Planning Board has received a lot of information about the 4.4 acres." 

Among the information in the Planning Board's possession is a memo dated August 11, 2019, from former city attorney Ken Dow, which states, among other things, the following:
When a municipal transaction such as this is void because it was outside of the authority to act, it cannot be made valid, ratified, or its purpose achieved by subsequent action or failure to act. Moreover, there is no time period after which a void action becomes effective.
Dow cites case law to support this. His memo concludes:
I believe that the Planning Board would be making a serious mistake to proceed on the basis of Colarusso's ownership of the 4.4 acres. The status of this parcel is fundamental to evaluating the dock operations' impact on "adjacent properties". . . . It is crucial that the Planning Board get this right.
On Tuesday night, it was decided that the public hearing would be kept open for both written and oral comments. When Karla Roberts asked what "new stuff" the board might need to make its decision, Chatham quipped, "A deed that shows the City owns the 4.4 acres."

The next meeting of the Planning Board is scheduled to take place on September 10 at 6:00 p.m.
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