Saturday, April 23, 2011

ZBA Public Hearing

On Wednesday, April 20, the Zoning Board of Appeals held its public hearing on the project proposed by Galvan Partners for the corner of Union and First streets. Galvan spokesperson DeWayne Powell presented the project, describing it as "Greek Revival inspired" and its location as "an increasingly nice neighborhood." Then the criteria to be considered in making decisions about area variances, as set forth in Paragraph 81-b of the New York State General City Code, were reviewed:    

  • Whether an undesirable change will be produced in the character of the neighborhood or a detriment to nearby properties will be created by the granting of the area variance;
  • whether the benefit sought by the applicant can be achieved by some method feasible for the applicant to pursue, other than an area variance;
  • whether the requested area variance is substantial;
  • whether the proposed variance will have an adverse effect or impact on the physical or environmental conditions in the neighborhood or district; and
  • whether the alleged difficulty was self-created, which consideration shall be relevant to the decision of the board of appeals, but shall not necessarily preclude the granting of the area variance.
When the meeting was opened to public comment, the first to speak was First Ward Alderman Geeta Cheddie, who declared herself "strongly in support of the project." She called the corner in its present state "dangerous" and "a blight on the community" and expressed her hope that "other people will fix up their properties inspired by the Galvan example."

Phil Forman, reiterating sentiments he'd expressed at the Historic Preservation Commission public hearing, said, "The whole block is a mess, particularly at night. The whole block goes quiet, and it's not a nice feeling." He followed up with the opinion that "It's going to be a terrific project."

The final comment of enthusiastic support came from Art Cincotti, who admitted he was working for Galvan Partners. Cincotti praised the quality of the construction and workmanship and said that "many of the private contractors participating in [Galloway] projects feel blessed to be involved."

After these comments of support had been offered, Third Ward Alderman Ellen Thurston asked what exactly the requested area variances were for and was told they were for setbacks and lot coverage. She then expressed concern about water runoff and drainage.

Pursuing the drainage question introduced by Thurston, I asked what evidence had been provided to the ZBA that the density of the proposed project would not alter the hydrology and negatively impact adjacent, genuinely historic properties. Current Hudson zoning code specifies that structures may cover no more than 30 percent of a lot, leaving the greater part of the lot open and able to absorb stormwater. The Galvan Partners' plan to site four buildings on what had originally been only two lots results in about 75 percent of the area being covered with buildings--a dramatic change in density for a space that Gossips research discovered has been vacant for a hundred years. 

Cheryl Roberts, counsel to the ZBA, explained that density and drainage are not issues considered by the ZBA when granting an area variance. They would be taken up by the Planning Commission in a site plan review, but there would not be a site plan review for this project because it involves single family houses built on separate parcels. Although the law was amended in 2009 to require site plan review for any subdivision of property, the lots at Union and First were subdivided in 2007, before the law was amended.

The public hearing was adjourned, and, after a brief intermission, the regular meeting of the ZBA was called to order. The four members present--Russell Gibson, Kathy Harter, Phil Abitabile, and Sheryl Shetsky--discussed the project briefly before voting. 

Abitabile wanted to hear from Charles Vieni, the engineer involved with the project, about drainage and water runoff. Vieni began by reciting the litany of his credentials and then told the ZBA that "the lot is pretty flat," indicating that the variation in height was only "1½ to 2 feet." He predicted that, based on his study of contour maps, drainage was not going to change at all. Shetsky wanted to know how long the project would take and was told by Vieni that it would begin in mid-May "and proceed from there as we go."

The outcome of the meeting was that the four members of the ZBA present (three members were absent) voted unanimously to grant the requested area variances to the project. 

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