Friday, September 15, 2017

Colarusso and the Planning Board

Alas, Dan Udell was not there with his video camera nor was Jess Puglisi from WGXC there with her microphone, so you have only Gossips (and Amanda Purcell of the Register-Star) to tell you what happened at last night's Planning Board meeting. There were a couple of other projects before the Planning Board, but this post will focus on the Colarusso projects: the dock (mostly) and the haul road (not much at all).

During the public hearing about the dock, which was a continuation of the public hearing begun on July 13, three members of the Hudson Power Boat Association, only one of whom actually lives in Hudson, spoke about how much the alterations to the dock improved waterfront safety for boaters. One went so far as to declare, "We owe Colarusso thanks for being a good neighbor." Comments from two Hudson residents--John Rosenthal and Julie Metz--brought the focus back to the real issue. Rosenthal said, "We have laws, and we have reviews. [Colarusso] disregarded them based on what they wanted to do." Metz reiterated the sentiment: "It's a terrible precedent for a company to do something without regard to the law."

The issue with the dock is that according to the zoning adopted in 2011, as part of the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP), the industrial use of the dock is a nonconforming use. Any alteration to the dock triggers the need to apply for a conditional use permit for Colarusso's current operations. Planning Board is now reviewing the application for a conditional use permit.

When the discussion returned to the dock, after the public hearing was closed and two other applications were considered, Planning Board member Carmine Pierro announced that he had a "little narrative" about the DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative). Tom DePietro, chair of the Planning Board, initially told him it was not relevant but then allowed him to continue. Pierro passed out copies of this illustration from the DRI application and also had a larger version mounted on foam core.

Referring to a script, written out on several sheets from a yellow legal pad, Pierro cited several of the proposals that are part of the DRI application: a public pier, new pedestrian bridges, eliminating the roadway west of the railroad tracks. He then said that he had contacted Cheryl Roberts, who had been the city attorney when the LWRP was adopted 2011 and was in large part the author of the LWRP. He quoted an email from Roberts explaining conditions the Planning Board can impose on dock operations. The point of the "narrative" wasn't entirely clear to this listener, beyond perhaps being an attempt to caution the Planning Board against trying to place too many restrictions on Colarusso's activities at the dock. 

Having given Pierro his hearing, DePietro asked the engineers from Barton & Loguidice, Ryan Weitz and Donald Fletcher, who are consulting with the Hudson Planning Board, to summarize their comments which had been submitted in a letter to the Planning Board. That letter can be viewed here. Weitz spoke of dust, noise, traffic, and hours of operation, noting that the letter "spelled out what quantitative data is needed to make a decision." He stressed two things: "truck traffic volume and noise levels." He noted that thus far the information from Colarusso on truck traffic was "47 to 284 one-way trips on the haul road" and asserted these numbers were "not based on an actual count of what is going in and out of the dock." 

Weitz also made reference to Chapter 210 of the city code, which deals with noise, and noted that the current noise levels of activity at the dock needed to be known to determine if they are in conformance or what mitigation would be required to bring them into conformance.

DePietro noted that it was "the fourth month in a row we have asked for [truck traffic numbers]," and Colarusso had not yet complied. He told the board, "We can decide not to accept the application [for a conditional use permit] if they don't give us the information." A little later in the meeting, Mitch Khosrova, legal counsel to the Planning Board, asserted, "You can deny the application based on the fact you don't have the information."

Khosrova recommended that the board set a deadline for Colarusso to provide the needed information, suggesting Monday, October 2, as an appropriate deadline. When the representatives from Colarusso were asked if they could meet that deadline, John Privitera, attorney for A. Colarusso & Sons, rose to protest that the City of Hudson had sued Colarusso a few weeks ago, "so we're still dealing with that." He complained that he didn't know the Colarusso projects would be on the agenda that night and they were not prepared to answer any questions. Privitera also indicated that they were not prepared to discuss the haul road. DePietro told Privitera, "We've have asked to expedite this application, and now you won't cooperate."

JR Heffner, vice president of operations for Colarusso, who attends every meeting having to do with the projects but rarely speaks, spoke last night to complain, "If we didn't do anything about the wall falling in, we wouldn't be here. It's not fair." After remarking that his mother had told him life isn't fair, DePietro responded, "You made that decision in 2014 when you bought property covered by laws passed in 2011."

At the end of the meeting, Khosrova revealed that Colarusso is refusing to pay bills--his bills--which they are required to pay under SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) and City of Hudson code, claiming the invoices do not provide enough specificity. Khosrova maintained that attorney-client privilege prohibits him from providing more information than he is providing. "I've spent more time defending my bills," he complained, "than the bills are for."

The story of Colarusso, the dock, and the haul road continues.


  1. I wonder what in the world Colarusso was thinking back in 2014. Either they didn't grasp the language of Hudson's waterfront zoning, or they assumed they could slam their project thru in good ol' boy fashion.

  2. 1.

    Also of note was a distinction made between the bulkhead application and any consideration of the road-building proposal. When treated as discrete issues, however, we've forgotten the most important reason for resisting such distinctions. This is the only argument I'll be making below.

    When Planning Board member Carmine Pierro quoted from his recent conversation with former City attorney Cheryl Roberts, the principal author of the 2011 zoning amendments, I wondered if William Sharp's name would arise. Indeed it did.

    Sharp was, and is, the Principal Attorney for the NYS Department of State. When Roberts found herself in an understandable quandary writing the statutes, she reached out to the NYSDOS, but it was Sharp himself who would work with the City, and Sharp who personally drafted the conditional use language for the Core Riverfront District (C-R). That was a pretty big deal.

    So that the City might understanding the regulations it was about to adopt for the new C-R District, Sharp made a presentation to the Common Council on 9/26/11, the audio of which can be heard online. At 1:08:26, Sharp explains the intentionally comprehensive framework he devised for the issuance of conditional use permits in the C-R District:

    "It would be at the point where something happens on the property, where the paving of the road - or the road needs to be regraded. If that's regraded, they're going to have to get a conditional use permit for the entire property."

  3. 2.

    In other words, a conditional use permit sought for any single use is meant to elicit a review of the entire property. It's not to be a review for the dock alone, as one might suppose is the case for a bulkhead project (although the causeway itself is specified as a "dock operation" in the City Code).

    During the recent SEQR process, we repeatedly heard a legitimate complaint that Greenport was "segmenting" the environmental review. Segmentation is the unwarranted division of a review into its component actions in order to make a single proposal seem more palatable. Segmentation is prohibited under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, and also under NEPA (federal).

    Aside from any role SEQRA may yet play, there's a parallel warning to heed in the words of William Sharp, the distinguished author of the C-R District's conditional use language.

    Compared with Sharp's intended holistic approach, if the Planning Board indulges a preference to make unwarranted distinctions between allegedly plural "projects," then the Planning Board will find itself making serial decisions about conditional uses each of which properly implicates "the entire property."

    It makes more sense for the Planning Board, both practically and legally, to coordinate each planning review within a single context in order to consider all proposed uses for "the entire property." This level of review must also include the forgotten revetment which, it should be recalled, the NYSDEC curiously approved against its own recommendations.

    Naturally, the Applicant will wish to compartmentalize and expedite the City's work. But as mentioned by the Planning Board itself, any inconvenience to the Applicant was entirely self-created. When the property owner ignored the requirement to obtain local permissions, it was acting out of self-interest and not ignorance (reminders from federal and state agencies to honor local laws were ignored).

    Our local laws and procedures must not be further abridged - this time by the City itself - in order to accommodate the Applicant's initial disregard for the City Code. There should be no distinction made between various projects and proposals whenever conditional use permits are required in the C-R District.

  4. Does Pierro work for Colarusso?

    Just wondering if he is on the on their payroll.

    1. Define 'payroll.'

  5. who appoints these " good old boys"? I first met Pierro in 2001 and my opinion of him them was a gutter snipe, and it has not changed.
    Rector , put an X after his name.

  6. There are a few names that our mayor elect should put an X after!! He is just one of them. They will not give up control easily.

  7. There's another angle to all this involving nonconforming uses and zoning variances.

    If a landowner wishes to enlarge, extend, or move a nonconforming use to a different part of a parcel "occupied by such use," all of which are prohibited actions in the City Code (§325-29), then the owner will require a zoning variance. This is the most important reason for insisting that the rebuilt bulkhead is identical in every dimension with the one it replaced (except that it's not).

    Now consider the road-building proposal which the project sponsor has successfully advertised as a "moving" of the road, except you can't move a road so you're really building a new one elsewhere.

    It's gradually dawning on everyone that the landowner is going to require a zoning variance to achieve any plan which enlarges and also relocates a nonconforming use.

    But there's an additional variance required if the proposal is to build it inside the Recreational Conservation District. How surprised should anyway be that the proposal's site plan claims zoning boundaries which vary wildly (no exaggeration) from the City's Zoning Map.

    But there's an additional problem here, insofar as the City's Zoning Map doesn't exactly square with the language of the Zoning Code at §325-17.1.

    It's ludicrous for the City to move forward with any of this without knowing the locations and boundaries of its effected zoning districts.

    On the other hand, each new administration, new Council, new board, new committee, or new official must learn everything all over again, which is a normal situation made worse in a place with no institutional memory (cf. William Sharp, above).

    Perhaps the nonconforming bulkhead, which is now taller and slightly moved out, will provide an example through which the Zoning Enforcement Officer, the Planning Board, and the Zoning Board of Appeals come to understand Code violations involving nonconforming uses. It will prepare us all to understand what's coming next.

  8. Who is the Zoning Enforcement Officer? I read a lot of references about Him/She, but never a name . Perhaps is a noconforming title in
    Hudsons local government. It has to be one good old boys.

    1. Good question! We're required to have a ZEO, but nobody will claim the role.

      The position isn't mentioned in the City Charter, so presumably the City is asking the NYS Department of State for guidance. It's a phone call, right?

  9. Wow its nice to see you cidiots bash people behind the comfort of your keyboards. I think the city government is picking arguements with the wrong people and the city is going to be worse off after it.

    1. In what sense do you mean "the wrong people"? Do you mean people who don't honor local laws?

      Please explain how any municipality can be "worse off" for defending its laws. Please give us the more-local-than-thou explanation for that.

      It's always been my view that if you don't like the laws, you change them. You don't break them!

      Seriously, what can you possibly be talking about?

  10. unheimlich, I think Herb has been smoking some "herbs". Another Colarusso lackey