Last night, the Common Council Economic Development Committee held an "information session" about the request from Stewart's Shops for the City of Hudson to amend its zoning to accommodate their desire to build an bigger and better gas station and convenience store at the corner of Green Street and Fairview Avenue.
Gossips has reported the details of that proposal before, notably when it was presented to the Common Council Legal Committee in March and when consideration of the request was, at the suggestion of Andy Howard, counsel to the Council, handed off from the Legal Committee to the Economic Development Committee in June, so only a few of the details from the presentation made last night by Chuck Marshall, real estate representative for Stewart's Shops, will be included here.
Marshall started out by saying that his predecessor at Stewart's Shops had built 300 stores, and he was charged with making each of those 300 stores bigger. (Stewart's actually has 337 stores in upstate New York and southwestern Vermont.) He said he didn't expect much more gas would be sold at an expanded Stewart's because "the market is fixed," but he then said that 1,250 gallons a day were currently sold and speculated that would go to up 2,000 gallons--a more than 50 percent increase. At one point, he talked about a 15 percent increase in overall business, but later it seemed the anticipated increase was 25 percent.
Before members of the public were given a chance to speak, Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), who chairs the committee, offered his own opinions. "In a vacuum, I have no problem with this project, but seven families will be dislocated, and that to me is a big problem." He went on to say, "Forgetting about whether there are spot zoning issues, [changing the zoning to accommodate this project] will devalue property throughout that corridor."
Eileen Halloran, who lives on Bayley Boulevard, was the first member of the public to speak. She said is was "generally in favor of the project," because she saw it was a way to improve the intersection, which she said was "among the worst," and to address hydrology issues plaguing that part of the city, although she didn't explain how introducing more impervious surface on that corner would mitigate water issues. She also suggested that landscaping at a new building could "absorb the schmutz that comes from truck traffic."
In his response to Halloran's comments, Marshall stated that "post-development discharge cannot exceed what happens now," not exactly the improvement Halloran was looking for. He also brought of the subject of a host benefit agreement, which he said could be used to mitigate impacts, and asserted that an improved Stewart's would benefit the city more than seven units of housing.
The next member of the public to speak was Michael LeSawyer, who lives directly across Fairview Avenue from Stewart's. LeSawyer began by asking rhetorically, "How will Stewart's correct the safety issue?" He told the committee that he has lived at that corner for sixty years, and "accidents are no more or less than they were sixty years ago." On the issue of pedestrian safety crossing the street, he recalled that there was once a pedestrian signal at the corner, which is no longer there, but concluded, "Stewart's will not do anything for safety unless they put in a pedestrian overpass." He predicted, "A bigger, better Stewart's will be more traffic."
LeSawyer took issue with Friedman's statement in the press release announcing the meeting that "Stewart's has been a good neighbor . . . for many years." He complained that litter from Stewart's ends up in his yard all the time, and nobody from Stewart's has ever picked it up. He also pooh-poohed the idea of landscaping, recalling a past effort at landscaping was four marigold plants. (Currently, the "landscaping" at Stewart's consists of a lone hosta.)
Gossips has more than once noted the irony of the committee that is working on legislation to ban formula businesses in the City of Hudson giving serious consideration to a request to change city zoning and ignore the intent of the Comprehensive Plan to accommodate a plan to expand an existing formula business. LeSawyer cited his own irony: "They can't park oil barges on the Hudson River, but we can double the size of a gas station in Hudson."
LeSawyer asserted that the project had no benefits for Hudson but only benefits for Stewart's. "Am I going to tell my son, 'We're getting a new Stewart's, just like the one in Chatham'? That's something to aspire to!"
LeSawyer also complained about the degradation of Green Street, once lined with handsome and substantial late 19th- and early 20th-century houses, many of which survive, along with three former car dealerships and other mid-century commercial intrusions. "Green Street doesn't get any better," he lamented, citing the former Dairy Queen building now adapted for use as a laundromat. "Why don't we share the rebirth of the city with Green Street?"
After quoting the City's zoning code, "The City is committed to the gradual elimination of nonconforming uses," LeSawyer concluded, "It's ridiculous to even think about this unless you bring in Frank Gehry to build us a beautiful gas station."
Next to speak was Keith Kanaga, who confessed not to live in that part of Hudson but said he drove by there often. He called Fairview Avenue and Green Street a dangerous intersection and said, "It was a mistake to allow them there in the first place." He predicted that "it would only get worse with a larger facility."
Wint Jackson, who lives on Green Street, asked, "What does the City expect to get in return for allowing this?" He had surmised from Marshall's presentation that the gain would be one full-time job and the loss six housing units. He went on to suggest, "The liabilities far outweigh the benefits. If Stewart's were gone, and there were houses there, we wouldn't have the problem [with the intersection]." He called the Stewart's in Hudson "the worst Stewart's Shop I've ever been to" and told Marshall, "You could make the building more attractive. . . . I don't think you've been a particularly good neighbor."
When Marshall protested that, because it was a nonconforming use, they couldn't make any changes to the building, Jackson did a little on the spot fact-checking and informed Marshall that being a nonconforming use only prevented the building from being "enlarged, extended, or put on a different portion of the lot." There was nothing to prevent Stewart's from making cosmetic improvements to the building.
Finally, a volunteer from WGXC who had been dispatched to the meeting to ask a question got the chance to do so. She wanted to know if the City of Hudson would take responsibility for relocating the people who would lose their homes if Stewart's were allowed to carry out its plan. Friedman's answer was terse: "Of course not. The City is never responsible for that sort of thing."
The committee plans to continue exploring the issue. Friedman expressed the intention to have "someone from [Assemblymember] Didi Barrett's office and someone from the Department of Transportation at the next committee meeting, presumably to discuss the possibility of improving safety at the intersection.
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