Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Image Is Everything

Tom Rossi and John Blackburn, the principals of Redburn Development who are re-imagining the industrial building at 41 Cross Street as a hotel, are working diligently to make their vision a reality. They have initiated a site plan review with the Planning Board; they have presented their plans to the Common Council Arts, Entertainment & Tourism Committee; they have applied to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a needed use variance. Committed to being good neighbors, the two have met with both First Ward aldermen, with the residents of Cross Street and Tanners Lane, and with the residents of lower Allen Street. Along the way, predictable concerns have been raised about water and sewer, parking, and increased traffic, but according to Gossips sources, a meeting with fellow lodging owners last week raised an entirely new concern: that the hotel is going to be a chain hotel--a Holiday Inn Express or worse--completely out of keeping with the historic character and unique quality of Hudson and hence will tarnish Hudson's image.

This prediction is based on a few things. The first being that Redburn Development does not plan to manage the hotel once it is built. Instead, the hotel will be managed by a hotel management company: Prestige Hospitality Group. That seems a reasonable, indeed a smart thing to do for people who have no experience in operating a hotel, but their choice is being questioned. The hotels that Prestige currently manages, as listed on their website, seem primarily to be chain hotels and motels, among them Comfort Inn, EconoLodge, Days Inn, Sleep Inn, and Holiday Inn Express.

Another thing that is being seen as evidence that the proposed hotel will be part of a national chain is that fact that Rossi and Blackburn haven't come up with a name for the hotel yet. No name fosters suspicion that the hotel will end up with a name like Hudson Days Inn or Holiday Inn Express Hudson.

To get both sides of the story, Gossips shared these suspicions and conclusions with Rossi. He acknowledged that the hotel would be "soft branded." A hotel affiliation was needed to have access to a reservation system. He stressed, however, that the brand would not dictate the hotel's appearance or character. It is his and Blackburn's goal to create a hotel that fits in with the neighborhood and is part of the Hudson culture. He posited that operating a 55-room hotel required a professional company with real experience and defended their choice of management companies by saying that a significant number of the hotels in Prestige's portfolio were located in communities like Hudson, mentioning in particular Lake Placid and Martha's Vineyard. He asserted a management company experienced with hotels of an individual and local character and as well as lodgings of a more uniform nature provided the best of both worlds. He noted that Justin Smith, president and chief operating officer of Prestige Hospitality, is a second generation hotelier. 

On the subject of a name for the hotel, Rossi told Gossips they had in fact chosen a name, one they were very happy with, but they were not yet ready to announce it. "The name," said Rossi, "drives the whole design."
COPYRIGHT 2016 CAROLE OSTERINK

18 comments:

  1. Here's to a Red Lobster anchor! "Best of both worlds". Riiiight. Chickens, roost. We should have pursued the formula biz ban more aggressively when we had the opportunity. I urge elected officials to review it again.

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  2. The ZBA has no authority to grant a use variance unless it can be shown by competent evidence that the property cannot achieve a reasonable return for any of the uses allowed under the zoning law. Which, off hand, does not seem to be a hurdle surmountable for this property.

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    1. The ZBA Public Hearing for the use variance is scheduled for March 16 @ 6 p.m. at City Hall.

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    2. White Whale Limited -- that's only 1 of 4 criteria that have to be shown to achieve a variance. Not sure how the weighting works off hand but all of zoning is a balancing of statutory abrogations of the common law rights of property ownership -- so the burden of showing necessity is generally on the municipality when all is said and done.

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    3. You're correct that it's only 1 of the 4 criteria, ALL of which must be satisfied in order to obtain a use variance. One of the other 4 is that the "undue hardship" allegedly arising from the zoning law cannot have been self-created; for example, a developer cannot acquire a property intending it for a prohibited use, and then argue that the prohibition imposes a hardship. Another of the criteria for a use variance is that the "hardship" imposed by the law is unique to the property in question and not shared by other properties in the district; again, a problematic showing for this applicant, IMO. It's also well settled law that the standards for obtaining a use variance are set extremely high, precisely because the applicant is seeking to utilize the property for an expressly prohibited purpose; and the only successful road to appeal of a denial of the variance is a showing that the ZBA's decision was "arbitrary and capricious"; that is, the ZBA's decision was rendered in complete disregard of competent evidence on all of the criteria provided in the zoning law.

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    4. Very instructive White Whale, thanks.

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    5. White Whale, you have to remember that NYS GCL 81-b requires that the criteria be applied as a balancing test -- there is no hard and fast "this is more important than that" sort of rule for application of the 4-prong test. Without the arguments by the variance-seeking party, all we can do is agree that there is a 4-prong test that is applied in fact-specific (i.e. balanced) manner. At this point, everything else are merely academic hypotheticals.

      But as to the "hardship" prong of the test and the self-created criteria, I wouldn't be surprised if at least part of the argument in this regard is that the City itself created the hardship by not following through with its rezoning of Cross Street to include lodging per the LWRP as it was enacted by the City and properly filed with the DoS. While the DoS has permitted it to stall, the balance of the zoning changes called for in the LWRP were enacted (as far as we know). So is this merely an oversight? If so, who created the hardship? It's an interesting potential line of argument.

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    6. A line of argument which could and should be presented in discussion of the proposed zoning amendment. And, in that context, if you are correct that omission of the lodging use was simply an oversight or a drafting error, then the argument should be pretty compelling.

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    7. As I've always understood it, the 2011 zoning amendments were the required prerequisite for the remainder of the waterfront program (LWRP) to take effect. The "LWRP zoning" was enacted according to the required sequence, even though the rest of the program got hung up on other details.

      It was the latter details which permitted the LWRP to stall, and certainly not the NYS Department of State (DOS).

      Indeed, the public has been in contact with the DOS ever since, to remind the State of its obligation to honor these details as presented in the program's SEQR Findings Statement.

      The Findings were a product of a handful of local officials who commandeered the waterfront planning despite the State's recommendation - and warning - to involve the public at every step. But it's true that the Findings do embody a compromise which these few officials offered the outraged public, which is why the public must insist on the inviolability of the terms.

      Far from the DOS holding anything up, the moment it became perfectly clear that the efforts of our previous Common Council President and City attorney had "stalled" was in January 2013, in a hilarious email exchange between City attorney Cheryl Roberts and Don Stever, the attorney for Holcim, Inc.

      You can almost hear the great waterfront planner's jaw hit the floor the moment she realized that Holcim had never been genuine, and that she'd put her faith in the wrong people all along.

      If Holcim hung some fools out to dry, rest assured they had what was coming to them. But to now spin it that "the DOS has permitted it all to stall" ... no, you do not want to go there.

      Hudson may have zero institutional memory, but the massively inconvenienced public more than makes up for this loss.

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  3. I was very excited about the project that Tom Rossi and John Blackburn from Redburn Development had proposed for 41 Cross Street, but after reading in Gossip the real plan for 41 Cross Street I now feel our neighborhood has been terribly deceived. I am very opposed to the hotel being managed by a corporation that has no connection or concern for Hudson other than to make money. Hudson is exceptional because we do not have corporate enterprises, because our business community is predominantly made up of residents, people that care about Hudson and the people that live here.
    Redburn Development knew from the get go that they were not going to manage their hotel and rather than pretending that they were locals with a true concern for historical architecture and community they should have been honest and presented the real plan. I would like to know why Redburn Development was awarded such a large grant from NYS. I would like to know the plan they have for the traffic and how you handle emergencies for a 55 room hotel with only one way to get in and out. I have many questions and I hope to see all of my neighbors at the zoning board of appeals on the 16th of March.

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  4. Nicole is right. Hudson would be a much better place without corporate enterprises like Etsy, wouldn't it?

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    1. Ambitiously missing the point

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    2. Exactly. Equating a national motel chain with Etsy is like equating Hudson with Martha's Vineyard.

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  5. Nicole, couldn't agree more!!!

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  6. Here's a hypothetical question: "Would Hudson be a better place without the CVS on Warren Street, which is owned and operated by a national corporation?" It may not be pretty, but I believe it is an asset, especially for people who aren't wealthy enough to own cars and drive to the pharmacies on Fairview Avenue. It is elitist to say, for example, that a Hilton or Kimpton hotel catering to the 1% is welcome in Hudson, while a budget hotel catering to the 99% is not.

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  7. Once again, a perhaps purposeful misstatement of the point. An hotel, whether budget or "elitist", is not providing services for the residents of Hudson.

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    1. Well, it is supposed to have public spaces for meetings, etc. That's a service as such places are fairly limited right now. To the extent their marketing plan to bring corporate retreaters here for off-season events works out, that would likely translate into a lot of business for local bars and restaurants. Not to mention the jobs they plan to create to run the hotel.

      All business brings something to our city to the extent it pays taxes (and they'd be putting the building on the tax rolls -- it's currently off), strengthens its community and neighborhood, etc. None are perfect for sure -- they all, after all, operate in their own self-interest as a primary motivator.

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