In September 2017, the Economic Development Committee decided not to pursue a zoning change to accommodate Stewart's. This year, with a brand-new Council and a brand-new Economic Development Committee, Stewart's is renewing its efforts to get the City to make a substantial change in its zoning that would benefit Stewart's but could have undesirable consequences for the immediate neighborhood and for the city as a whole.
On Thursday night, Chuck Marshall, real estate representative for Stewart's Shops, was at the Economic Development Committee to pitch the plan and answer the committee's questions. Not far into the conversation, when questions were asked about entrances and exits, Marshall told the committee, "You're not approving a Stewart's. You're approving a zoning amendment." That's an important distinction to remember. Spot zoning, defined as "the process of singling out a small parcel of land for a use classification totally different from that of the surrounding area for the benefit of the owner of such property and to the detriment of other owners," is illegal. So what Stewart's is asking the City to do is to rezone the north side of Green Street and the west side of Fairview Avenue to allow for commercial development--in effect, to invite the commercialization of Fairview Avenue found in Greenport to make its way back into Hudson.
Any discussion of Stewart's invariably involves talking about the intersection of Green Street and Fairview Avenue and peril pedestrians face trying to cross the street at that point. Last July, when the Economic Development Committee held a public "information session" about the Stewart's proposal, Eileen Halloran said she was "generally in favor of the project," because she saw it as a way to improve the intersection. Last night, Halloran, now a Fifth Ward alderman and a member of the Economic Development Committee, noted that the traffic study done by Creighton Manning, which was part of the Stewart's application, determined that intersection would not be dramatically different with a new and improved Stewart's.
Rich Volo (Fourth Ward), who chairs the Economic Development Committee, brought up the fact that two houses, representing seven dwelling units, would have to be demolished to enable the Stewart's expansion, noting that it was a significant loss in a city with a shortage of affordable housing. Marshall responded by suggesting that the houses, were they to remain, could become single-family houses, thus reducing the number of available homes, and Halloran pointed out that a new building with four units was being constructed just up the street.
The new store being proposed by Stewart's would be 50 percent larger than the current store. When Volo asked about the products to be sold in the larger store, the answer was essentially more of what is now sold at Stewart's. Marshall asserted that "people in the community depend on Stewart's." Later in the conversation, Marshall said that Hudson was the victim of its own success and claimed that "the people we serve are the underserved." Marshall's statement about the underserved inspired Volo to comment, "I don't understand how Stewart's determines the people are underserved and a bigger store is necessary."
When Volo asked what benefit the Stewart's expansion would be to the community, Marshall answered, "A nicer building that improves the intersection is a community benefit." Earlier, Marshall mentioned a community host benefit agreement, although no information has been provided about what amenities and/or mitigations Stewart's might be offering in that agreement.
Toward the end of the conversation, Marshall said, "If we are unsuccessful, we will operate it as long as we can," vaguely intimating that Stewart's might abandon its Hudson location. When Register-Star report Amanda Purcell asked if he was saying Stewart's would leave Hudson if the City didn't change its zoning to accommodate the expansion, Marshall seemed to backpedal, saying, "The long-term situation is that nonconforming uses get pushed out." He then suggested that if Stewart's left, some other business that didn't provide as many hours of work for as many employees might take its place.
It was in the context of talking about what might happen if Stewart's was pushed out that Marshall made reference to a post that appeared on Gossips: "Houses Back from the Edge." The post was inspired by comments that the two houses Stewart's wanted to demolish were in such bad shape they were not worth saving and featured houses in Hudson that had, in recent years, gone from "not worth saving" to desirable. Marshall noted that most of these houses had been purchased at tax foreclosure auctions (that's not exactly what he said, but I think that's what he meant), but the Stewart's purchase of the two houses would be "a market level transaction that will allow the owners to stay and reinvest."
It's not entirely clear what the Economic Development Committee's next steps will be with regard to the Stewart's application. Volo spoke of a public comment period. Halloran talked about having to learn how the "new law" would impact the Stewart's situation. It seemed she meant proposed Local Law No. 9 of 2017, which had been referred back to the Legal Committee at the Common Council meeting earlier this week. Local Law No. 9, as it's now written, would have no impact on the Stewart's situation, since the law does not address expanding commercial uses in residential districts but rather would allow buildings that were constructed for commercial uses prior to 1976 when Hudson adopted its zoning and have a long history of commercial use to be used again for a well-defined number of commercial uses.
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