Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Watching Hudson Avenue

At the last Common Council meeting, it was decided that there would be a special meeting to take up the issue of the zoning amendment needed to build a block of four row houses on Hudson Avenue.

That special meeting never happened. Instead, the Common Council has scheduled a public hearing on the request for a zoning change for Monday, November 7--the eve of Election Day--at 5:45 p.m., preceding a special meeting about the 2017 budget at 6:30 p.m. and the informal Common Council meeting at 7:00 p.m.

It will be recalled that the zoning amendment had been sent to both the Hudson Planning Board and the Columbia County Planning Board for recommendations. In preparation for the public hearing, the responses from both boards are now available on the City of Hudson website. The response from the Hudson Planning Board makes the following comments:

Interestingly, although a legal opinion from Virginia Benedict, of the law firm Rapport Meyer, stated "The fact that rezoning . . . benefits a specific person is not determinative" in deciding if a zoning change is an example of "spot zoning," and Tom DePietro, who chairs the Planning Board, told the Common Council on October 18 that the board's recommendation "did not hinge on spot zoning," item 2 in the Planning Board's "report" seems to make it pretty clear that the possibility that "some members of the public" might perceive the zoning change as spot zoning is the reason for the board's recommendation.

The response from the Columbia County Planning Board is also interesting. After noting that "this proposed action does not appear to have any significant county-wide or intercommunity impacts associated with it," which means the county planning board has no say in the matter, the county planning board makes a few comments: one being that the parcels should be rezoned R-3 instead of R-S-C to create "a more cohesive neighborhood and . . . minimize the potential for conflict between existing residential uses and future commercial uses"; the other being a concern that in changing the zoning for these three parcels, Hudson is giving up part of its limited "land available for job creation and/or retention." To support the latter, the county planning board quotes from page 31 of Hudson's 2002 Comprehensive Plan.

In 2002, the Comprehensive Plan seemed to cling to the notion that job creation can only happen in an industrial zone. Fourteen years later, when this particular industrial site has been vacant and abandoned for ten years and Hudson is witnessing the growth of a creative economy, the need to maintain every bit of our industrial zones certainly doesn't seem as great.


  1. The CCPB's collective suburban slip is showing: homogeneity is not typically sought after by urban dwellers. Moreover, its recommendation misses the point: as currently zoned (Industrial - 1I) ANY industrial/commercial/business use is permitted on the subject land -- any use, that is, except housing. The RSC zoning requires additional PB oversight of commercial ventures in mixed residential/commercial areas (recall there was a working junk yard on part of the land at issue as recently as 18 months ago). Will a deli and restaurant open there? Not likely -- there's no vehicular or pedestrian traffic on Hudson Avenue to speak of. But professional offices? Why not? Jobs, housing -- both are part and parcel of the LWRP and the City's Comprehensive Plan.

  2. The Planning Board owes it to residents to point out and explain the requisite passages in the 2011 LWRP which indicates that "the LWRP was part of an on-going comprehensive review process regarding the Hudson zoning laws" (quoting the 10/19/16 Report).

    Concerning the City's southern Industrial Zoning District, the LWRP states:

    "The City WILL MAINTAIN an industrial corridor on the south side of the ADM railroad spur encompassing [Industrial] uses" (p. 19; emphasis added).

    That's hardly suggestive of an "ongoing" process, though the passage does continue specifically and only in relation to the McGuire site:

    "However, if the McGuire property does not return to productive industrial use within a reasonable time frame, perhaps 3 to 5 years, the City would support a change in use to better accommodate the needs of the City at that time. Acceptable uses compatible with the LWRP might include commercial, residential, open space, recreational use or institutional use" (LWRP, p. 19).

    But if no similar recommendation is made for any other district or site, how can it be claimed that "the LWRP was part of an on-going comprehensive review process regarding the Hudson zoning laws"?

    The only other sense of an ongoing comprehensive zoning review is found in the 2011 Findings Statement, but that passage only concerns potential amendments for permitted density in already-zoned residential districts.

    Personally, I have no opinion regarding the Hudson Avenue proposal, but I'm very concerned about the potential misuses of the City-approved LWRP.

    When the City zoning was amended five years ago, there was no hint that the changes were part of an ongoing comprehensive review process, nor does the LWRP suggest any such thing.

    To all appearances, this is a misappropriation. The Planning Board should defend this specific reference to the LWRP, lest a creative interpretation in the present serve as a Trojan horse somewhere down the road.

  3. The LWRP and its related documents are posted at the City website. Anyone can read them, including members of the Planning Board.

    It should be easy for board members to cite any passage from the LWRP which supports the view that "the LWRP was part of an on-going comprehensive review process regarding the Hudson zoning laws."

    Certainly a Zoning Code can always be amended, but that's not the claim here.

    In its generality, the Planning Board's statement concerns every aspect of the City's Zoning Code, and also how officials may now regard the City's laws going forward. For instance, we might expect equally creative interpretations by other bodies as well, and concerning other proposals.

    It's dangerous to treat our codified laws as if they are merely provisional arrangements, subject to the potentially arbitrary reinvention of local officials. But that's precisely what's invited by the nonsense phrase, "an on-going comprehensive review process."

    To avoid the appearance of engaging in self-serving revisionism (one which all-but guarantees bad consequences elsewhere [think: ZBA]), it should be the easiest thing in the world for someone to locate the supporting text for the Planning Board LWRP claim in the LWRP itself.

    Indeed, the public is owed as much.