Friday, March 10, 2017

The Planning Board and the Haul Road

Jess Puglisi of WGXC recorded last night's Planning Board meeting, and it can now be heard online. The meeting lasted for close to two hours; the discussion of the proposed Colarusso haul road begins at 50:15. In case you don't want to listen to the proceedings, Gossips will report on some of the more notable moments.

Photo: Julie Metz
Needless to say, when the attention turned to the haul road, the first thing to be discussed was the unexpected recusal of Ray Jurkowski, the engineer from Morris Associates who had been advising the Planning Board on the Colarusso proposal. Planning Board chair, Tom DePietro explained that the Greenport Planning Board had asked Jurkowski to make a choice: he could work for Greenport or Hudson but not both. Because he is on retainer with the Greenport Planning Board, advising them on all projects that come before the board, whereas in Hudson he is only engaged on a case by case basis, Jurkowski chose Greenport. No reason was given for why the Greenport Planning Board felt Jurkowski could not work for both planning boards in a coordinated review. DePietro reported that Virginia Benedict, attorney to the Greenport Planning Board, had advised the board not to share that information. Mitch Khosrova, attorney to the Hudson Planning Board, remarked that the situation was "like nothing I have ever experienced." Noting that there was no coordination in what is supposed to be a coordinated review of a proposal that impacts two municipalities.

Jurkowski submitted his comments on the revised project narrative on Monday, February 27. On Tuesday, February 28, the Greenport Planning Board went into executive session to discuss an issue having to do with Jurkowski. Presumably it was in this executive session that Jurkowski was told he would have to make a choice. He informed DePietro that he would be recusing himself from Hudson's review of the proposed haul road on Friday, March 3. Khosrova advised, "This board should decide if it wants to have another engineer," indicating that another engineer should be hired "if the board wants something more from an engineer than what Ray has already submitted." The board decided it wanted another engineer.

Another moment of interest came when Planning Board member Clark Wieman asked about a meeting he'd heard about "with the Colarusso attorney and the mayor." Khosrova, who apparently was also part of the meeting, said the meeting was about the relationship between the City and Colarusso. Khosrova spoke of "public statements and acrimony" and "stuff in the papers" and said that a week ago it was decided that "getting the parties together would be useful." When Wieman asked if the outcomes of that meeting were relevant to the Planning Board's consideration of the project, he was told they were not. Soon after that, Khosrova assured that Planning Board that Colarusso had nothing to do with the Greenport Planning Board's demand that Jurkowski work exclusively for one planning board or the other.

In his presentation to the board, P. J. Prendergast, engineer for Colarusso, spoke of a benefit to Hudson of the proposed haul road that they had been overlooking: the elimination on the streets of Hudson of "retail traffic." The haul road would enable trucks coming to Colarusso from the south to pick up gravel and asphalt to avoid entering Hudson altogether. Instead they could turn right, before reaching the Hudson city limits, onto the stretch of the haul road going east from Route 9 to the quarry, thus avoiding traveling on Worth Avenue, Warren Street, Park Place, Columbia Street, and Green Street on their way to Newman Road and back. According to Prendergast, this would take 70 trucks a day off the streets of Hudson--35 coming and 35 going.

The volume of traffic to the dock remains an issue. On Thursday night, Prendergast maintained, as he has before, that "the project is not about expanding operations; it is about redirecting trucks to a remote area"--i.e., the causeway through South Bay. Khosrova made the point that if they declare the volume of traffic to the dock will not increase, it has to be known what the volume is now. Without that knowledge, there is no way of knowing if it has increased or not. "Why has this been neglected for so long by the applicant?" he asked. JR Heffner, vice president of operations for Colarusso, maintained that all the information was in the Creighton Manning study. "If it's buried in the document," said Wieman, "why do we have to dig for it?"

Wieman brought up the question of alternative routes, noting that one alternative--going between Route 9 and Route 9G along Route 23--was acknowledged but dismissed as being "not economically feasible." This route would be three times longer than the proposed haul road route. Khosrova commented, "DOT [Department of Transportation] won't like that." DePietro then observed, "They've been talking about the social benefit [of the proposed haul road], but they have had this opportunity all along." Prendergast responded to DePietro's comment, "The applicant is under no requirement to do any of this."

Photo: Julie Metz
When Wieman observed that the haul road "supports activity on the dock" and suggested that the "biggest issue is waterfront industrial activity," Prendergast asserted that "nothing was done down there that helps them expand," referring to the improvements made to the dock without site plan approval from the Planning Board. The improvements are now subject to an Order to Remedy issued by the Hudson code enforcement officer, which Colarusso has appealed. That situation is expected to be taken up by the Zoning Board of Appeals on Wednesday, March 15. The ZBA meeting begins at 6 p.m. at City Hall.


  1. Clearly, Greenport government and Hudson government have different interests in the haul road; at least that would be the obvious conclusion in Greenport's decision to make Jurkowski "choose." My further guess is that Colarusso pays most of its property taxes to Greenport and thus, Greenport would feel much more inclined to see it as a "resident" than would Hudson. Is there no discussion between Greenport Planning and Hudson Planning? These are thorny issues and they date back to the grand battle over Saint Lawrence Cement, but it seems that they are now being fought via a rather odd proxy: the haul road. Wieman is right: "the biggest issue waterfront industrial activity."

  2. Colarusso is trying to bamboozle the city by claiming that a quality-of-life improvement would result from the removal of their trucks from Columbia St. What they omit is the fact that they had a viable, profitable business for 100 years without running their dump trucks thru Hudson. They imposed that abuse on city residents in recent years, and are now trying to strike a heroic pose for relieving us of a situation that they created in the first place.

    Further, even if Colarusso traffic was completely taken off Columbia St., residents along that route will continue to suffer the impacts of all the other heavy trucks that routinely travel thru on the designated state truck route. Here is a partial list of the many business locations served on a regular basis by tractor trailer vehicles:

    Price Chopper
    Yonder Apple Storage
    Five different strip malls on Fairview Ave.

    In addition to the list above, there is a big volume of thru traffic that passes along thru the city enroute to other destinations. The central rationale that Colarusso is presenting to justify their haul road is bogus. It makes no sense for Hudson to further compromise its waterfront for the sake of a modest decrease in truck traffic.

    1. Well said.

      And after loyalists in City government wrung their hands in concern for residents on Front and Columbia Streets, and regretted the toll the trucks are taking on City infrastructure, the second that the Planning Board points out that, in fact, the company has always had alternatives, the City is immediately instructed that the company can just walk away from this proposal.

      Maybe it's just me, but that doesn't seem very caring at all.

  3. 1.

    To all appearances, our Planning Board attorney is working for the Colarusso corporation.

    It doesn't help when he's sitting there nodding YES to the project engineer's serial falsehoods. Or when he opines about the DOT's preferences which are at the expense of NY's Home Rule policy and SEQRA's requirement that all reasonable alternatives be explored. Or when he announces the date when Greenport will deem the application complete (the application is dangerously incomplete to the point of harboring a potential felony if left uncorrected).

    How is he so sure that the side slip where the bulkhead was rebuilt cannot be used for commercial activity? He's wrong about that because the company's wrong, but how can we stop our attorney from channeling the company line to both municipalities?

    All day long I heard murmurings that the attorney should recuse himself, but this is not someone who is looking out for our interests. He must leave the City's employ altogether, because you don't pay someone who's working against your interests.

    So what was he doing at this clandestine meeting if, as he said, he wasn't discussing the business of the Planning Board or the Zoning Board of Appeals? Neither the Planning Board nor the ZBA knew their shared attorney was meeting with a Colarusso attorney and representative (among others yet to be identified, perhaps even including Greenport), so if he wasn't representing either client then he had no business being there, period.

    It's my understanding that the meeting was arranged at the behest of the Colarusso company, for whom the City's Zoning Code presents the greatest obstacle. (Tiny detail: the company bought the land AFTER the City amended its zoning in order to protect the environment, so any privation there was self-inflicted.)

    Well nobody's fool enough to believe that planning and zoning issues weren't discussed at the meeting at least indirectly - any amount is too much! - or that compromises weren't being discussed beyond the reach of the public and our City Boards.

    The meeting itself assumes the form of a compromise, which makes it an incredibly stupid gesture for the party with everything to lose - the City.

    The City served a violation and also provided a simple remedy: submit an application and attend a meeting. That is all.

    The company answered by appealing the Order and initiating a judicial proceeding.

    Of course they'll attend a secret meeting with City appointees, in order to get a bead on how much the City is willing to sacrifice when faced with bullying.

  4. 2.

    For a plausible scenario, let's begin with the City attorney believing that nothing which relates to planning or zoning would be discussed at the meeting. He really supposes it's about public relations, though he doesn't stop to wonder why he should be saving face for a company which has just initiated judicial proceedings against the City. (Amazingly, the Office of Code Enforcement was also present at the meeting, a fact which is so stupefying even I'm speechless.)

    In the middle of this absurd and ill-advised meeting, a company representative makes a brisk reference to the "noncommercial" bulkhead work, and the company lawyer and the Greenport official nod their ascent.

    Of course the attorney for the ZBA is already aware that the appeal makes this same argument, though he hasn't the knowledge or wherewithal to question any of the Appeal's claims. At some point, mere claims morph into truisms which are worth repeating, and henceforth it is a fact that the new bulkhead has no commercial use.

    So while he may tell himself that no one at the meeting discussed the appeal, or zoning, or planning, in fact a great deal was decided subliminally, beneath the usual, inattentive radars. (Alas, in this regard the City attorney is not unique.)

    The rest of this hypothetical story was witnessed by all at the Planning Board meeting. We watched as the City attorney (whom we are paying!) nodded enthusiastically to the project engineer's recapping of several of the false assertions in the Appeal: the slip is "too narrow" (the Appeal says 25 feet, but it is really 42 feet); the new bulkhead is lower than the adjoining bulkhead (in fact they are identical in height); the dimensions of the wharf have not changed (indeed, the company has added surface area to its working wharf).

    Again, who does this attorney represent, and who was he representing at the clandestine meeting?

    It's a no-brainer that he shouldn't have been there at all, and certainly not without the knowledge of his clients.

    But because he's not our Corporate Counsel, the role he must play as advisor to two Boards was already becoming impossible, certainly thanks to Greenport's assertion that the Appeal cannot be conducted at the same time as the SEQR review. Even better for the applicant, Greenport has doubts that our Zoning Code can be a part of the environmental review despite the fact that our zoning was created for the express purpose of environmental protection. Yes that's all very cushy, and I have no doubt the DEC will go right along with it. (The DEC's unwise Region 4 office has already segmented this review.)

  5. 3.

    But now consider how the same attorney who serves the two City Boards has tainted his own dual role.

    When he assented to the company's line by expressing enthusiasm for the facile claims found only in the Appeal, wasn't he in essence "discussing" the appeal before Planning Board members? He's certainly proffering an opinion when perhaps nobody in City government yet appreciates how utterly baseless the Appeal is. Even the City attorney doesn't know unless he's been out on the river with a tape measure.

    By doing nothing to stop the applicant from repeating the themes of the Appeal before the Planning Board, and then by openly agreeing with the Appeal's specious contents, wasn't this attorney usurping the work of the ZBA he's meant to serve? Not only is ZBA's work yet to be conducted, but for those who know the details of the Appeal the work was now being initiated at the wrong venue!

    This is all very wonderful for the company, at least for now. But the problem for this appointed attorney is that everyone now has a pretty clear idea how he'll be advising the ZBA. And the more determined he is to find a way out for the company - now wearing this hat, now wearing the other - the more he pushes City residents into suing the City.

    It should be obvious to everyone that this case is now beyond the ability of an attorney who's only permitted to switch hats. Our Corporate Counsel is the proper office to coordinate the functions of the several City bodies, so that one City entity doesn't end up suing another. (Yes, the City can challenge itself in court.)

    Corporate Counsel might begin by investigating the role of Code Enforcement at the clandestine meeting with the Colarusso representatives.

    He should also consider the only argument in the Appeal which has any basis in the real world: Why did the CEO issue only one violation? There have been three egregious Code violations by this landowner.

  6. We learned last night that Mitch Khosrova sees his job more like a "public relations" gig, than an advocate for the City. Considering that the Colarusso project is the most significant challenge we've faced since the St. Lawerence fight, Mitch needs to go. I'm no lawyer, but I'm pretty sure Mitch's "go along, to get along" strategy is no strategy at all. I suggest we renegotiate his retainer to be paid in gravel.

  7. That this attorney is "working against [our] interests" (from above) must be defined.

    All involved parties signed off on the 2011 zoning amendments, all having agreed, however unhappily, that their respective interests were reasonably preserved in the new statutes.

    When the Colarusso company purchased the property three years later, it also bought the compromise its predecessor had reached with City residents who had also compromised.

    With its 2014 purchase, A. Colarusso and Son, Inc. essentially acquiesced to the zoning limitations placed upon its new land, whatever ideas it had to eventually circumvent the City Code (see: Order to Remedy).

    By expecting our own attorney to "defend our interests," we're ONLY asking him to defend the Zoning Code. That's our entire "interest," that the City and the applicant follow the rules.

    But what our own attorney is doing is looking for a new compromise. Without understanding the history of underlying issues, or recognizing that residents are prepared to defend the City's laws, he's tacitly acknowledging that the company made a mistake by purchasing the land without understanding the Zoning Code.

    To all appearances, this single, appointed lawyer is steering the City into an accommodation which up-ends the 2011 zoning amendments. He is actively facilitating a single applicant's way out of a self-created dilemma, and he'll do it by reinterpreting the zoning language we'd foolishly believed had preserved our interests (e.g., a blanket reinterpretation of the Code is the only identifiable purpose of the company's Appeal to the violation Order).

    Now consider that we're paying our attorney for this privilege ...

    Isn't it simpler and cheaper to defend our local laws by firing the appointee who's looking to compromise them at every step? His whole style compromises them, willy-nilly, which he's now bringing into clandestine meetings at which he admits he has no clients!

    No, I'm afraid for this fellow that he's tainted beyond the point of no return.

    Unfortunately he can't be replaced before the next ZBA meeting, but after that he must go. It appears we'll have to pressure the City to replace him because, well ... that's how things work, isn't it.