Saturday, December 10, 2016

Three Hearings and No Quorum

There were three public hearings scheduled by the Planning Commission to take place on Thursday. The one for 209-213 Columbia Street (the proposed new location for Promise Neighborhoods) was cancelled because the applicant had withdrawn the proposal. The other two hearings were cancelled because, although more than thirty members of the public showed up for the meeting, only two of the seven members of the Planning Board did--the chair, Tom DePietro, and Laura Margolis. With only two members present, there was no quorum.

Of interest is the fact that the terms of three members of the Planning Board--Cleveland Samuels, Glenn Martin, and Gene Shetsky--expire at the end of this month, and DePietro intimated that all three are to be replaced with new members.

Although no public hearings took place, it turned out that, except for the two applicants those public hearings were cancelled, the rest of the people had come to City Hall for what actually did take place: an open discussion of the proposed Colarusso haul road from Newman Road in Greenport to the Hudson waterfront.

Google Earth
Google Earth
DePietro displayed a document, more than an inch thick, recently received from Colarusso, which he explained was the response to questions posed by Ray Jurkowski, the engineer from Morris Associates who has been retained to advise the Planning Board in this matter. Among those questions was: How many truck trips through Hudson would be eliminated by the haul road? The document was not discussed because no one had had time to review it.

DePietro told the audience that the Planning Board was in the process of drafting a letter to the Greenport Planning Board, which has been granted lead agency status in the SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review) process by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The letter, DePietro explained, would define "what our interests in Hudson are." He said he wanted people to know that the Hudson Planning Board's review of the proposed haul road would be "an open and careful process," and he encouraged people to attend Greenport Planning Board meetings, to let them know that the project was of concern to the people of Hudson. He then invited questions and comments from the audience.

Timothy O'Connor was first to speak, bringing up what he called "the east causeway"--the part of the haul road going east from Route 9G through a part of Hudson zoned Recreational Conservation.

O'Connor pointed out, as he has before, that the conversion of what was a rutted trail into a gravel road should have come before the Planning Board for site plan review. DePietro told O'Connor that the decision of whether or not something came before the Planning Board was made by the code enforcement officer. Mitch Khosrova, counsel to the Planning Board, suggested that the easement for the road, which Colarusso presumably inherited from Holcim, may have been the width of the current road, and in widening the road, "they are just taking advantage of what they had all along."

Khosrova asserted that there was no established baseline and hence to way to determine if what had been done exceeded what was permitted. O'Connor alleged that everything had been documented in a letter written by former city attorney Cheryl Roberts, but no one could find that letter.

The discussion then switched from the "east causeway" to the dock, where a major revetment project was completed within the past week or so. In this case, Gossips has learned, Hudson's code enforcement officer has maintained that only the Army Corps of Engineers had jurisdiction over the work that was done.

Work in the "causeway" going west in 2011
John Rosenthal then asked, "When was [the path through South Bay] used as a haul road?" He followed up with the statement, "Now we are saying it is a haul road when historically it might not be." The question crystallized, for those who have been in Hudson for a while, how much the use of the "causeway" and the activity at the dock has increased over the past ten years, apparently without any review or oversight from the City of Hudson and in spite of community commitment to limiting industrial uses of the waterfront. This Gossips post from July 2011 provides some history of what went before: "Contemplating the 'Causeway.'" Another question raised by Rosenthal is an apt one: "What kind of control can we exert going backward?"

When Khosrova pointed out that the proposed haul road would mean many fewer trucks going through city streets, Tony Stone said he didn't want "the city attorney to pit citizens against each other." Trucks going to the dock now enter the city on Route 23B from Newman Road, follow Green Street to Columbia Street, take Columbia Street to Third Street, and Third Street to the entrance to the causeway. This entire route, up to the turn into South Bay, is on state designated truck routes. Trucks going from the dock back to the quarry do not use the route through South Bay. Instead, after crossing the railroad tracks on Broad Street, they go north on Front Street to Columbia Street and up Columbia Street, where, once they have crossed Third Street, they are back on the state truck route, and they retrace their path back to Newman Road. The reason they don't go back through South Bay is that the Department of Transportation will not permit heavy trucks emerging from South Bay to make a left turn onto Route 9G, but, as Stone pointed out, they could make a right turn and bypass the city by returning to the quarry by way of Routes 23 and 9H.

Khosrova called the information that trucks could make a right turn onto Route 9G, which has been known for at least three years, a "show stopper," but is it? Could the City, were it to have the will, force Colarusso to route its trucks on a longer path that would keep them off Hudson's streets both coming and going? Even if this were possible, it doesn't address the problems that remain ours: an industrial haul road through a significant coastal habitat, truck traffic at the only entrance to the waterfront, industrial activity at the dock, and the fugitive dust.    

Melissa Auf der Maur recalled that ten years ago no trucks passed Basilica Hudson. "There were no trucks and no people. . . . The fight was to get people to the water." She asserted there was something wrong in the city planning. "How did we get to this point of industrial expansion?" She pointed out that the level of industrial activity, as it is now, is unacceptable. She noted that the gravel trucks are interfering with the hundreds of people who are going to work every day in the former L&B building, where Digifabshop and other enterprises now operate.

Reacting to Auf der Maur's statements, Rosenthal raised the question of whether or not Colarusso was a good neighbor and asked, "Why should we favor a business interest in Greenport over business interests in Hudson?"

There is also a report about the Planning Board meeting by Rosa Acheson in today's Register-Star: "Road expansion proposal faces tough questions." 


  1. We don't need Cheryl Roberts' letter, and it's not the only document establishing baselines. (Also, it was Mr. Khosrova who cited the mythical letter.)

    Also, the area wasn't zoned with any reference to easements. The causeway was zoned according to its "use," which is also called a "dock operation." Easements got nuttin' to do with it.

    Finally, in July, the Army Corps of Engineers specified in it approval letter to Colarusso that the company would still need to adhere to local laws (like zoning). So, what exactly did the City do? We'll need to find out for sure.

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  4. In response to the lamentation that the problem is "an industrial haul road through [a wetlands,]" the route was established in the 19th century when there was no where else to run it. It's still there and has every right to remain there (though we still argue its future should have been amortized in 2011).

    We may as well identify the problem as needing roads to drive on, and wanting to make our roads as safe as possible using Becraft's excellent quality aggregate.

    The better point is raised in the next paragraph, by Ms. Auf der Mauer: "How did we get to this point of industrial expansion?"

    For those who recall the conversations surrounding the 2011 zoning amendments, and the tedious rationales examined in great detail in the Generic Environmental Impact Statement, the City attorney always repeated she was focused on the City's need to "control" this or that, including the potential expansions or intensifications of the landowner's operations.

    As Mr. Khosrova put it so succinctly the other night, we can't tell someone how many trucks they can use, but there's a lot we can say about how the trucks get to where they're going.

    And that's exactly what the drafters of our zoning amendments did, with the involved assistance of NYS Department of State legal staff.

    I'm not alone in thinking they didn't do such a hot job in the end, but if the City isn't going to enforce its Zoning Code at all then it doesn't matter what sort of job they did.

    So Ms. Auf der Mauer asks the right question. How did we get here? It's all very wrong, particularly as the City intentionally designed laws to avoid the kinds of circumstances which have already come to pass: a recently installed road and now the revetment.

    How did these new structures, technically called "buildings" according to our Code, evade a City Planning Board review?

  5. How sad that since 2009 the City did nothing with the DOT's suggestion of turning right out of the causeway, then heading south to Rte. 23. (Mr. Stone introduced the subject on Tuesday night, which attorney Khosrova rightly characterized as a "show stopper.")

    Was even a single inquiry made about this "show stopper" during the past seven years? IMO, we should have been asking into it at least twice a year, I mean if any of the politician in that time really cared about Front Street, and Columbia St. west of 3rd.

    Today, of course, it's a truism that there's only one way to get trucks out of the lower City, despite the fact that some of us have doggedly denied this narrative for years. Unfortunately, it only takes a few lazy officials with an endlessly repeated slogan to make sure that nothing gets done (and that the industry gets served).

    It was always easier to repeat that there are no alternatives, while others went a step further, hoping to turn residents against residents while using the lazy, fabricated narrative. This invidious, self-serving yarn framed it so that "environmentalists" allegedly cared less about residents in potential Environmental Justice areas (I'm one), and more about the causeway and "six-legged frogs."

    Ugly, ugly, cynical stuff. And just false.

    So thank you, Tony Stone, for laying that business to rest at last. We will not be divided by the cynicism of a few bad actors in City government.

    The fact that nearly every City official continues to repeat the story today, that "there is no alternative," just means that politicians whose instinct it is to listen to their constituents last, if at all, tend to be the last people to find out what's really going on.

    Maybe someday, instead of mindlessly repeating the ultimately cynical meme, a City official will actually take the time to draft a letter to the DOT inquiring into the seven-year-old alternative. And then maybe, because so much time has gone by, they'll learn that the DOT is no longer offering this option.

    That wouldn't change the fact that nobody in City Hall ever cared enough about trucks in the lower City to do anything about them, though all were happy to accuse other groups of not caring, which was never accurate.

    If it's no longer an option, though, then we'll be right back to the same meme, years our representatives' gross negligence swept under the carpet, and surely the same old accusations that the defenders of the mining interest care more about the 1st and 2nd Wards than the ward residents themselves.

    What a cynical stupid place we live in.

    But is it only City government which failed us all in this regard? What about Holcim Inc., and later Colarusso Inc., who were both so enamored of the false narrative.

    While the available DOT alternative meant longer truck drives (read: fuel), these self-appointed experts on the issue, who were in the best position of anyone to work towards the required "concurrence" between Hudson and Greenport, would only repeat that there was one way to cease the hazard and annoyance of trucks in the lower City, and that was to give these companies everything they wanted down on the causeway.

    Finally, a year ago, the new owner just took what it wanted. That's the story we're focusing on, and not the SEQR review for the next proposal.

    (Notice, I haven't mentioned the SEQR review at all, nor will I be. That's for a proposal that was submitted as recently as May 2016.)

  6. This point goes straight to Mr. Rosenthal's question, What sort of neighbors are these?

    I think I know the answer. Residents were asked to endure truck traffic for years when another alternative which cost the aggregate companies more in fuel was conveniently forgotten. Now, to get the trucks off our streets - like anyone has really cared for seven years - we're being asked to absorb an expansion of industrial operations at the expense of our own interests as codified in the 2011 zoning amendments.

    What kind of deal is that?!

    Further, after cheating the City's zoning at the east causeway a year ago, and now at the revetment too, I'm already hearing these realities presented as the new baseline for future proposals (such as the one from May 2016, for which Greenport will serve as Lead Agency).

    I'm already hearing ideas for accommodating the new proposal by bringing in visual screening, more dust suppression, and so on.

    But wait a minute! That's an implicit renegotiation of the 2011 zoning, and only to accommodate one of the City's big players who's already demonstrated its bad faith vis-a-vis the existing zoning. So why on earth would residents agree to that? We're not the ones who cheated.

    If this company was a good neighbor, no one would be asking us to help capitalize on the deceitful road- and revetment-building by next renegotiating the zoning. The way the zoning was negotiated, and then drafted, resembled the making of a contract. If one of the partners later turned out to be unfaithful, in what world does that require the people of good faith to renegotiate the contract?

    We're being asked to grant special exceptions so that a private entity may capitalize on its previous bad actions towards us.

    So here's an interesting idea which is ultimately totally fair to all parties. It's way out there, but humor me: the landowner honors the Zoning Code as written. (Cynics can laugh if that makes them feel better.)

    If we can just get things back to the way they were a little over a year ago, then residents may agree to look the other way on the other multiple expansions of the west causeway over the years (all of them illegal, and none enforced by the City).

    Then, and only then, should we agree to take a look at any new proposals, including the one from May.

    We must see that the landowner is a good neighbor, which can be done by removing those structures which so disrespected our zoning laws during the past year. At that point, we can approach one another with all due respect. All parties can renegotiate the contract, so to speak, and discuss what each might consider giving up as a compromise.

    As it is now, we're being told what to give up. In the case of the east causeway and the revetment, our oversight privileges through our Planning Board were simply taken from us.

    What sort of neighbors are these?