Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Larger Vision for Hudson Avenue

The proposed amendment to the zoning law, which would change the zoning on three parcels on the west side of Hudson Avenue from I-1 (Industrial) to R-S-C (Residential Special Commercial), is meeting with unanticipated opposition. 

The Planning Board is expected to recommend against the amendment. Although the specific reason for making this recommendation will not be known until the Common Council receives a letter from the Planning Board, it is believed that the letter will urge to Council to undertake comprehensive zoning revisions rather than making specific zoning changes. 

The parcels in question are located in the Waterfront Revitalization Area--the portion of the city that was comprehensively rezoned in 2011 when the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program was adopted by the Common Council. Although, in the LWRP, this particular area of the city, surrounding what was originally the Gifford-Wood Company, retained its I-1 zoning, the LWRP is clear in its support of the very change now being proposed. On pages 74 and 75, the LWRP speaks specifically about this site: "The City proposes to maintain the industrial zoning but acknowledges that this site has great potential for residential, commercial, and recreational uses. A zoning change in the future to accommodate nonindustrial development would be consistent with the LWRP."

The zoning amendment now proposed is also getting flak from a neighbor on East Allen Street whose backyard abuts the western tip of the largest of the three parcels. Although she opposes the amendment, she does not have a problem with the plan to construct four row houses on the west side of Hudson Avenue. What she finds unacceptable is the larger vision for the area, which Walter Chatham, the architect who owns and wants to develop the parcels, described in a letter to property owners in the immediate vicinity. Last week, Chatham shared the letter with Gossips. The following is quoted from that letter:
RSC Zoning is the equivalent of R-4; permitting 3-story multiple dwellings and general commercial uses. We are requesting this zoning because we believe that it is the highest and best use for the site, which is on a one-block-long public street across from the Hudson Little League Field. We believe that this proposed zoning is consistent with the Hudson Comprehensive Plan and Draft Apprendices; which encourage the conversion of under-utilized industrial land for commercial and residential use.
Allowing commercial uses would permit "Live/Work Units"--owner or tenant-occupied buildings that provide both shelter and the means to make a living. These are increasingly popular and provide much needed start-up spaces for all types of businesses. Specific types of businesses imagined would be a mix of small specialty shops with neighborhood features such as a deli/newsstand, small restaurants, etc.
In order to accommodate this idea, we are hoping to provide an old/new building type on Hudson Avenue: two and three story buildings with retail/commercial and office on the ground floors and residences above. These buildings were the backbone of small-scale property ownership in cities like Hudson in the 19th century, and they allow many different types of occupancy to occur, so the use of the property can change over time to remain "useful." It makes sense to try to emulate the most desirable parts of "old" Hudson in a new "addition" to the City Father's Plan. 
The ironic thing about the opposition to the zoning amendment based on the larger vision for the area is that the elements considered worrisome and objectionable in the plan--delis, restaurants, specialty shops--are permitted by the current I-1 (Industrial) zoning. The only thing that is not permitted in an industrial zone is housing, and it is for the construction of houses that the zoning amendment is being sought.



  1. 1.

    "Comprehensive zoning revisions"?

    "It is believed" the Planning Board will recommend this?!

    In other words, "it is believed" the Council will be urged to re-do the 2011 LWRP zoning amendments, the latter being an example of what's meant by "comprehensive zoning revisions."

    But that undertaking, which occurred between 2009 and 2011, was no small thing. Not only did it take years to make the changes, but they happened to be the most contentious part of the LWRP process.

    Those who opposed the South Bay zoning proposal - the same one we got in the end - understood that controversy as an extension of the St. Lawrence fight several years earlier. Certainly the same arguments were revisited concerning a potential expansion of industrial operations at the waterfront.

    When he rejected the St. Lawrence proposal, the NYS Secretary of State repeatedly cited the "increase in scale and intensity of industrial operations at the Hudson riverfront [which] would not encourage future retail and tourism-focused investment, and may jeopardize the base of the current revitalization effort."

    By 2011, it was the potential for an "intensification of use" which presented the greatest difficulty for the City's drafting of the zoning amendments. Finally, it required the assistance of the Principal Attorney of the NYS Department of State (DOS), who volunteered to write those sections for us.

    But even the language drafted by the DOS favored the same landowner of South Bay, St. Lawrence Cement, which had since reorganized and changed its name to "Holcim Inc."

    In fact, every zoning amendment which related to the South Bay was at one time or another suggested by Holcim itself. Where it was explained to the public that the landowner was making compromises that were more protective of the wetlands, in fact these changes had all originally been at the landowner's suggestions (even zoning the causeway as a "nonconforming use").

    The South Bay was even re-zoned to accommodate a conveyor system, an idea initially floated in 2007 by the Chair of the Waterfront Advisory Steering Committee.

    In the end, and over public protest, the City did everything asked of it by the corporate giant.

  2. 2.

    So can it be true that the Planning Board will now "urge" the Common Council to "undertake comprehensive zoning revisions"?

    The suggestion is so outrageous that it just can't be true.

    Consider, however, that the South Bay's new owner claims it was ignorant about the City's Zoning Code when it invested over $7 million for the property. While that claim hardly seems likely, you can bet that rather than accept the consequences of a foolhardy investment, City residents will be pressured into accommodating and absorbing the mining company's disappointed expectations. We'll all be asked to do our part to advance Neoliberalism Rule no. 1, which is that corporations must grow.

    Even in the corporate landowner's current proposal, which aims to intensify use along the South Bay causeway (recall the earlier concern with "intensification," shared by City and State alike), the new landowner believes its action is consistent with the City's zoning. But not only is it not consistent, it's actually forbidden, which was just following the zoning suggestion of the previous owner, Holcim (see above: "nonconforming use").

    So you have to wonder what it means when you see the words "comprehensive zoning revisions," though I think we can be confident that the Planning Board isn't looking to fob off its duties at the cost of tearing everyone apart again, and so soon after the last comprehensive zoning controversy.

    Personally, I have no interest in lessening the company's current level of operations, which seems a reasonable level to me. But notice how the City is repeatedly asked to accommodate and appease this latest landowner, even to the point of pretending that all those millions were invested without reading the City's Zoning Code. Give me a break.

    We fought long and hard to arrive at zoning language which maintains the intensity of use at 2011 levels, or at least deliberately aimed to do so. It was the specific issue the DOS traveled to Hudson to address for us.

    If the owner now wants two-way traffic along the causeway (and it should, because it ought not to be using City streets needlessly), then it will have to achieve that within the current Zoning Code.* That's what we fought to achieve in 2011, and what created the circumstances in which the company later invested.

    If A. Colarusso and Son, Inc. made a foolhardy investment, then it's not government's job to fix their problem at the public's expense.

    [*The Planning Board is already aware that two-way traffic on the causeway is allowable now, or at least as soon "a concurrence" between itself and the Greenport Planning Board is presented to the NYSDOT. This was explained in an Oct. 6, 2010 letter to Greenport from NYSDOT, a letter which the City Planning Board has in its possession. In fact, it's documented that Holcim ran trucks both ways for some time, ca. 2011-2012, and that a concurrence was all that was ever required to get the trucks off of City streets permanently (that is, aside from the State truck route). If the political will to achieve this has been lacking for years, then rather than investigate all available alternatives, some City officials will next be telling us that the only way to get the trucks off City streets is to give the company everything it wants. It will be explained that "environmentalists" are standing in the way, but anyone who says any such thing is a bad public servant, not to mention a liar.]