Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Fate of Local Law No. 4

Local Law No. 4, the proposed law that would waive the offstreet parking requirement for apartments in basements and accessory buildings and would allow buildings in residential districts that were formerly used for commercial purposes to be used for commercial purposes again, didn't fare well in the public hearing about it on November 13. At the end of the hearing, Council president Claudia DeStefano indicated that she thought the proposed law needed some work. 

At tonight's Common Council meeting, there was no mention of the proposed Local Law No. 4 until Steve Dunn, who it seems drafted the law, asked why the Council was taking no action on it. DeStefano told him she was sending it back to the Legal Committee for further consideration based on the input from the public hearing. Michael O'Hara (First Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee, said he didn't think anything could be done in the Legal Committee. He then launched into a defense of the proposed legislation, responding specifically to objections raised by Kristal Heinz in the public hearing. He dismissed the objections made by code enforcement officer Craig Haigh, saying they were "misplaced." He asserted that the proposed legislation was meant to codify what is now common practice by the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals regarding offstreet parking requirements. 

After some discussion, it was decided, given that the proposed legislation has been on the aldermen's desks since August, that the Council would vote on whether or not to enact the legislation. In a roll call vote, Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), Abdus Miah (Second Ward), Shershah Mizan (Third Ward), and Michael O'Hara (First Ward) voted in aye; DeStefano, Henry Haddad (Third Ward), Alexis Keith (Fourth Ward), Priscilla Moore (Fifth Ward), and Rick Rector (First Ward) voted no. Robert "Doc" Donahue (Fifth Ward) abstained, saying that he didn't understand either the proposed law or the objections to it.

After the vote was taken and the law failed to be enacted, Dunn lamented that people hoping to establish commercial enterprises in buildings that formerly had commercial uses would be inconvenienced. It was then suggested by an audience member (truth be told, it was Gossips) that the law should go back to the Legal Committee to be bifurcated, to separate that part of the proposed law that deals with nonconforming commercial uses from the part that deals with dwelling units in basements and accessory buildings. It was agreed that should happen.


  1. Thanks to those who voted no. Kristal Heinz was absolutely right. What property owner would spend five to six figures to build a new “replacement” alley building, including code-compliant housing, if their return would be “affordable” rent and a huge property tax increase? In the videotaped hearing, Mr. O’Hara countered Ms. Heinz’ contention that newly constructed apartments on alleys would not necessarily be “affordable” by theorizing that rather than THOSE apartments being affordable, encouraging their construction would “take the pressure off total rental units available in the City.” How would adding more luxury housing on the alleys affect the availability of “affordable” housing in the City of Hudson? Moreover, Mr. O’Hara’s statement appeared to directly contradict the rationale in Section 2 (Legislative Findings) of the proposed law itself, which states “…certain types of dwelling units, which include in particular dwelling units located…in a separate building behind another building on a parcel in a rear yard of parcel (sic) (e.g., dwelling units in a building that also contains garage structures with access to an alley in the rear of a parcel) by their location or smaller size, tend in general to be more affordable than other types of dwelling units.” This is not likely to be the case with new construction, as witness the 600 square foot studio apartment in the historic district mentioned in a prior post that recently rented for $1,200 a month.

    Mr. Haigh was also correct. Fire safety in the alleys is no joke, particularly with wooden structures in close proximity. Mr. O’Hara stated that “the logic behind the parking issue is that in many cases, if these units are over a garage, they would already have included parking as part of the building.” If what he meant by that statement was that the Legal Committee assumed the new tenant would be provided with a parking place in the new garage, that’s not logic - or reality. Homeowners with the resources to construct a new residence over a garage on an alley may well have two cars of their own; and even if they don’t, there is no reason to assume they would provide a new tenant with a parking space, particularly when those spaces can be rented separately. So where is the data to support the purported “logic”? As Mr. Haigh stated, this initiative would undoubtedly push additional cars into alley parking. Nobody could predict how many of the extra cars would impede emergency access at any given location, at any point in time. And when you can’t get water to a fire, it spreads. In the alleys, a fire could spread very quickly to surrounding structures, via either flying sparks or direct contact with flames. The presence of more vehicles parked in the alleys would also add more gas tanks to the mix. And as Mr. Haigh pointed out, anyone living in an alley building inaccessible at the time of an emergency would be at risk.

    Mr. O’Hara, in his apparent eagerness to cater to the hopes of those in search of "affordable housing" (absent any demonstrated connection between said housing and the proposed law), was reportedly quick to dismiss as “misplaced” a legitimate concern for the delivery of emergency services voiced by the professionals who provide them. We have a right to expect better from elected officials. There is no justification for jeopardizing public safety in pursuit of an illusory gain.

  2. While I appreciate the arguments on both sides of this question, I think Mr. O'Hara is right about the macro-economic impacts of relaxing the laws on "garage" and "basement" habitation. Since "affordable" housing is always a relative thing it does little good to argue that the proposed law makes housing more affordable. What it would do, however, is increase the number of housing units available in Hudson, thus changing the supply-and-demand dynamic and, most probably, taking some of the pressure off rising rental rates.