Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cheryl Roberts and the LWRP

Last night, the LWRP--the sections of the document pertaining to zoning, that is--were delivered into the hands of the Planning Commission: Donald Tillson, Cappy Pierro, Cleveland Samuels, Claudia DeStefano, Gerald Wood, and Glenn Martin. (Laura Margolis is also a member of the commission, but she hasn't shown up for a meeting in rather a long time.) The commission's task is to review the zoning changes proposed in the LWRP and decide if they are consistent in their specifics with the stated goals and if the new zoning comports with the City's Comprehension Plan and the 1996 Vision Plan.

In the hour-long meeting, Cheryl Roberts, as a principal author of the LWRP and counsel to the Planning Commission, gave the commission an overview of the document and led the members of the commission through what was expected of them. In the process, Roberts said a couple of things that are worthy of note. Speaking of the zoning that seeks to regulate the use of the port and the "causeway road" through South Bay, Roberts said, "We're kind of pushing the envelope here, but so far Holcim is OK with this." Later, when explaining how any change of use in the CR (Core Riverfront) Zone would require that the Planning Commission review it and grant a conditional use permit, Roberts commented, "I'm not convinced this is going to work; DOS thinks it's going to work." 

It was decided that the Planning Commission would have a special workshop meeting on October 19 at 6 p.m. at City Hall at which the members of the commission, after having the chance to study the zoning documents independently, could ask questions of Roberts. Now here's where Roberts' dual role as author of the LWRP and counsel to the Planning Commission seems to get problematic. The Planning Commission must submit a written report of their findings to the Common Council, the titular lead agency for the LWRP. Roberts told the Planning Commission last night that she would have a draft of that report ready for the workshop meeting next week. 

Could it be that Roberts is wearing too many hats when it comes to the LWRP? Does it seem appropriate that the person who took major responsibility for writing the LWRP is also the person who is advising the Planning Commission in their review of the document and drafting the report of their findings?


  1. It is certainly not appropriate to have the same person working on all of the above AND be the advising attorney for the City's environmental impact statement, but that was the decision of the Common Council itself.

    Considering the Mayor's broad privilege to appoint one attorney to wear so many hats, the relinquishing of legislative responsibility for the GEIS at the February 17, 2009 Meeting of the Common Council was the end of any opportunity the public had to defend its own interests and voice.

    People blame the Mayor for having commandeered the waterfront documents, but they should not.

    In his fairly blunt mind, why shouldn't the Mayor do whatever it is he wants to try and advance his own interests, as long as people are prepared to hand over their own power?

  2. I can see that the earlier comment missed the mark.

    On February 17, 2009, the Mayor's attorney showed up at a Common Council meeting and "stated the Scope of the GEIS would be completed by the Planners and herself" (CC Minutes).

    An outline was handed out by Roberts which ultimately served as the Scope of the GEIS. That outline was drafted in the Mayor's office at a meeting between "the Mayor of the City of Hudson, representatives of BFJ Planning, and [Roberts]," with no Lead Agency members present (letter from Roberts to South Bay Task Force, 4/10/11).

    To grasp the meaning of the moment when the Lead Agency effectively and permanently relinquished our voice to elements outside of the legislature and Lead Agency, I hope that people will have a look at a few selections from the DEC's "SEQR Handbook" on the meaning and value of SCOPING.

    Some personal favorites (read and weep):

    "6. What are the advantages of conducting formal scoping?

    "Formal scoping is recommended because it provides several benefits, most importantly the "scope" itself. A scope is a written product in which the lead agency and project sponsor eliminate non-significant issues and focus the draft EIS on the most significant potential adverse environmental impacts.

    "A written scope of issues developed through a public scoping process benefits the lead agency and the sponsor by providing explicit guidance as to what criteria will be used to determine whether a submitted draft EIS is adequate. The written scope provides a means of ensuring that significant topics have not been missed and that the level of analysis in the EIS satisfies standards established during the scoping process.

    "Formal scoping can also give the lead agency and involved agencies greater control over the ultimate EIS product and ensure that the lead and involved agencies' environmental concerns are adequately addressed. Formal scoping can help reduce criticisms that an EIS is inadequate and reduce future challenges to EIS adequacy by involving the public in developing the specifications for the content of the EIS. An important component of those specifications can be agreements on specific methods, techniques, conditions or timing for new studies, which lets public comment on the DEIS focus on study results and implications for decisions.

    "Finally, when a scope enables the EIS to focus on just the significant adverse environmental impacts, there can be cost and time savings for all parties, including the public, because a smaller, more targeted document will need to be prepared and reviewed."

    "7. What are the disadvantages of not conducting formal scoping?

    "When there is no structured scoping process resulting in a written scope, a project sponsor prepares a draft EIS based on comments from the involved agencies and issues identified in the positive declaration but without further written submissions or public input. This limited input may be adequate for small, readily-defined actions with a relatively narrow range of clear-cut impacts or issues. In general, though, EIS's without scopes often attempt to discuss every topic conceivable, which takes focus away from significant and relevant issues. A lead agency also risks not discovering issues or resources of local importance, or overlooking sources of information and local or site history if it does not use public scoping. Finally, without public scoping, the lead agency may fail to meet all involved agency interests."

    "13. Can staff of a lead agency prepare a final scope without involving the public?

    "No. If formal scoping occurs, Part 617 requires public participation in review of a draft scope."

  3. Seem like it was handed to the Mayor on a plate and nobody said boo
    and Cheryl doffed her many hats and went away smiling. So perhaps we get what we deserve.

  4. It is more evidence of how undemocratic -- and probably unlawful -- the process has been. And that only hurts the community. It's not just about the waterfront and South Bay, these special gifts, it's that this community, US, deserves better. Much better.

  5. There is a statute of limitations for the vote the Council will take next week on the Findings Statement (which certify that SEQRA's requirements have been met).

    So many of us know that SEQRA's requirements have NOT been met!

    But if no one challenges it, then it doesn't matter whether it was lawful or not, not after that statute runs its course.

    It will now be entirely up to the citizens to spotlight the chicanery we experienced here. The Common Council will be of no further utility for anyone interested in a wise stewardship of the wetlands as soon as they issue positive Findings.

    If a court sides with our challenge, then we'll be able to say definitively that Hudson's was not a lawful process.

    It's an awful lot to put citizens through for want of representation that is not lazy, incurious or weak.