Wednesday, August 21, 2013

New Site Plan Approval Law

Before its regular meeting last night, the Common Council held a public hearing on the new Site Plan Approval Law being fast-tracked through the adoption process by mayoral "letter of necessity." The hearing started out with city attorney Cheryl Roberts and Common Council president Don Moore making a couple of minor changes to the text of the law--multifamily properties was changed to residential uses containing at least four dwelling units; residential use containing at least three properties was changed to residential use containing at least four properties. Moore then explained that the county planning board, which needed to review and make a recommendation on the law, was meeting at that very moment, and he was expecting a call letting him know their decision.

Curious about the haste and extraordinary measures, Gossips asked, when the time came, why the law was being pushed through with such urgency. Moore explained that, since it was the construction season, they didn't want to hold up projects or inundate the Planning Commission with applications for site plan review for such things as porches and minor additions. Since the Planning Commission never seemed to get applications for porches and minor additions, that explanation seemed inadequate.

Later in the meeting, Roberts revealed the reason for the urgency. In June, right about the time it was being discovered that Peter Wurster, the code enforcement officer, had not required a site plan review by the Planning Commission for Fish & Game, the mayor decreed that the law must be followed. As it was then written, the law required that every project that needed a building permit also needed to be reviewed by the Planning Commission, but the code enforcement officer used his discretion to waive a Planning Commission review when he felt it unnecessary. If the code enforcement officer was now expected to follow the law, with no exceptions, the law needed to be changed to make following it practicable.

In the discussion preceding the vote, Alderman David Marston (First Ward) questioned using "at least 1,000 square feet" as the size of an addition that required a site plan review, saying that was too large in a city as small as Hudson, with buildings in such close proximity to one another. He also objected to the fact that the law had bypassed discussion in the legal committee.

Given the accelerated process--skipping committee and eliminating the requirement that it sit on the aldermen's desks for ten days--a two-thirds majority was needed to pass the law. When they were voting on the SEQR form required for this action, Alderman Robert "Doc" Donahue (Fifth Ward) had stated, prematurely but loyally, "If the mayor wants this, I want it, too." When they were voting on the actual law, Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), for comic effect, echoed Donahue's words. Marston and aldermen Nick Haddad (First Ward) and Chris Wagoner (Third Ward), however, voted against passing the law. Nevertheless, with Moore and all the other aldermen voting for it, the law achieved the two-thirds majority required.

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