Friday, March 30, 2018

Stewart's Again

At its meeting on March 15, the Common Council Economic Development Committee, on the suggestion of Council president Tom DePietro, decided to kick the Stewart's proposal for a zoning change to enable the expansion of the Stewart's at Green Street and Fairview Avenue over to the Legal Committee. This past Thursday night, the Legal Committee took up the issue.

Although the discussion of the subject, as it bounces from one committee or regulatory board to another, tends toward exasperating redundancy for someone who has been following this for more than a year, there are some new developments to report.

Jeff Hunt
First, Alderman John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee, was in receipt of a letter from Jeff Hunt, president and CEO of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce. Purporting to speak "on behalf of the Board of Directors and the over 700 members of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce," the letter declares support for Stewart's expansion, "whether it's achieved by a simple use variance or by way of the adoption of an Overlay District proposed by the Stewart's Corporation"--in other words, by any means necessary. 

Hunt's letter goes on to explain the reasons for the Chamber's support for a project that Hudson residents living along Green Street and Fairview Avenue and elsewhere in the city have spoken against. The following paragraph is quoted from Hunt's letter:
Our support for the expansion is twofold, as a Chamber of Commerce, we generally support industry and business expansion because in general it increases our tax base (property, sales and gas taxes), creates and expands employment opportunities and finally the expansion encourages a safer pedestrian pathway to Hudson. Additionally, based on the merits of the Stewart's application the Chamber supports the Overlay district because of its goals are in line generally with what many of citizens of Hudson has been asking for. Those goals include the following: Requiring new mixed use developments in future developments, create a 5 minute pedestrian commute to the City of Hudson, establishes a standard of appearances for new developments and encourages more sidewalks and a safer corner for pedestrian traffic.
Hunt goes on to dismiss concerns about the demolition of two houses and consequent loss of six or seven dwelling units with this sentence: "The housing stock that has caused some to think negatively about the expansion is being replaced just a few feet up Fairview Ave by new clean, safe and affordable housing units." The reference, of course, is to this building, which is finally nearing completion after being under construction for close to four years.


Chuck Marshall of Stewart's Shops also submitted a letter--his addressed to Council president Tom DePietro and the members of the Common Council. The letter asserts that Section 325-40 of the city code allows individuals to petition the Common Council for zoning amendments, outlines the community benefit of a larger store ("a brighter, more pleasant shopping experience"), talks about community wealth ("Employees of Stewart's Shops have the potential to become stockholders so we don't refer to them as employees for "Partners"), and argues that the Council should accommodate Stewart's because it amended the list of conditional uses in the R-S-C (Residential Special Commercial) district on the south side of the city to include hotels and allow The Wick Hotel on Cross Street to be developed, adding this comment: "Unlike 'The Wick,' Stewart's has not nor will it seek a Payment In Lieu of Taxes [PILOT] associated with its redevelopment."

The letter accompanied a draft for a host community benefit agreement, in which Stewart's promises, in exchange for the City adopting Stewart's proposed Green Street Overlay District, to give the City an undetermined amount of money for "the design, permitting and construction/installation of new pedestrian access at the intersection of Green Street and Fairview Avenue."


The proposed Green Street Overlay District would allow commercial enterprises as a conditional use in the area marked with magenta stripes on the map above. The proposed district would extend from just east of The Rosery on Green Street, wrapping the corner, to just south of ProPrinters on Fairview Avenue. 

During the discussion at the Legal Committee meeting, city attorney Andy Howard reminded the aldermen, "Something is designated a nonconforming use with the notion that eventually it will go away." He also counseled them, "You have to ask how important is that service to the residents of that area." Responding to Howard's statements, Marshall told the group, "If Stewart's is unable to expand, it is our intention that we will eventually leave. We could sell the building to another operator, but you would still have a nonconforming use on that corner." 

Howard outlined the Council's choices: they could find Stewart's proposal for a Green Street Overlay District acceptable as proposed; they could modify it; they could declare it unacceptable. He then posed the question: "Do we feel this would be appropriate and would not run afoul of a larger vision for the city?" 

The committee decided to take another month to think about it.
COPYRIGHT 2018 CAROLE OSTERINK

30 comments:

  1. Stewarts is bullying the City of Hudson to allow Fairview style expansion across her border into a residential neighborhood !

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Fairview style expansion"? Huh? Vince, have looked at Green Street west of Stewarts? That's Hudson style expansion and it's pretty ugly. And the only bullying I see is the City bullying Stewarts. They've presented a plan that improves that corner by leaps and bounds and the City should be welcoming them. There are so many blights in Hudson that deserve our attention. Why are we picking Stewarts, a good store, with good jobs?

      Delete
  2. Mixed use tends to lead to more sustainable street life. Not seeking a PILOT is refreshing change, too. a commercial overlay district that applies to corners would be a big step in the right direction for a good chunk of Hudson's north side where there is no commercial zoning. The City should ensure that Stewart's ponies up the funds for the intersection improvement. If necessary, state funds should be sought for this -- it is Rt. 9 after all.

    ReplyDelete
  3. how does a busier and larger Stewart's encourage a safer pedestrian pathway to Hudson? Painted crosswalks would be nice, but just walking on the sidewalk -- how do your chances of being hit by a car or truck decrease?

    ReplyDelete
  4. John's point is well put in that Stewart's needs to be legally bound to pay for the bulk of these improvements. Offering us some undisclosed or unspecified gift is nice, but all to frequently the public is made to actually foot the bill while the private sector has little incentive to follow through.
    The estimated increased taxes of $1,800 and $1,700 for local and school taxes respectively are negligible in these regards to the public infrastructure improvements which are necessary because of this project. Aren't all residential and commercial property owners responsible for the sidewalks? I would imagine this would also drive up rental prices on nearby properties slightly.
    The teardown of these two adjacent buildings is going to exacerbate the already low housing stock shortage, though I appreciate the letter from the CCCoC pointing out there is other housing on it's way. I wonder what the going market rate difference between the new and old housing stock will be? It's okay because the wage earners will have a chance to pay for it with the 15% increase in estimated wage earner hours according to the Stewarts proposal.
    I'm not opposed to a nicer, cleaner, larger and more appealing Stewarts with a potentially safer??? or visually exciting path of egress for pedestrians though I think the residual impact will long be felt afterwards and this is just opening up another flood gate to the further stripmallification of Hudson downtown proper.
    Why can't we have a supermarket in Hudson?

    ReplyDelete
  5. How far along, if at all, has Stewart's proceeded with the necessary involvement of NYS DOT in this proposal?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Stewart's: NOT asking for a PILOT. Established here for nearly FIVE DECADES. Paid and paying property and sales taxes consistently for all those years. NOT a FAUX not for profit. Provides JOBS with BENEFITS and stock options to non-creative economy employees. Responsive and respectful Stewart's representative at every meeting. Committed to improving the City's intersection.

    Yes, THAT definitely is bullying.

    Stewart's provided a document that included the visual of the proposed improvements at the Legal Committee to the members of that Committee and to TGOR. It has not been shared by TGOR OR perhaps most interestingly and certainly telling, by Council Member Volo on his FOURTH WARD blog as an update. (Given we're all about transparency.)

    And as for the housing argument: I'm still waiting for an explanation from public officials and the housing experts who post here as to why Stewart's is being held to a seemingly different and higher standard on that front. And, I'm wondering why it's okay for a whole lot of other private property owners in Hudson to sell their privately owned properties to . . . others, but why apparently it is NOT okay for the two adjoining private property owners to sell their properties to Stewart's. THAT sounds a lot like discrimination to me.

    Susan






    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You obviously found that visual enlightening, Susan. I thought it was out-of-focus and not very helpful--which is why I didn't bother to scan it and include it here.

      Delete
  7. Carole,

    This is your blog so if you’d prefer to not have Stewart’s side represented I will gladly oblige. Because previous email has gone unanswered I wanted to bring you copies of any correspondence to ensure transparency which is why I brought hard copies to you Wednesday. We attempted to display an existing and proposed situation in the same image, highlighting the changes.

    Last Monday I met with NYSDOT Region 8 Director Lance MacMillan and his staff. They were enthused about the reduction from 100+ feet of unrestricted curb to 65 feet.

    The agreement presented was a draft because a value has not been determined. Creighton Manning is supposed to meet with the City over the next two weeks to determine the scope of repairs versus replacements for thenintersection’s components but currently estimate the improvement will exceed $100,000.

    It is important to note our proposal is a zoning amendment and the Council isn’t approving a Stewart’s Site Plan. Stewart’s would still be subject to Site Plan review by the Planning Board where the improvements would be reviewed and upon acceptance the City would enter the agreement via action by the Common Council. This would also require NYSDOT’s issuance of a Highway Work Permit again insuring compliance with their standards.

    We remain committed to making this improvement and a community we’ve been part of for 45 years.


    Chuck Marshall
    Stewart’s Shops

    ReplyDelete
  8. Kick Stewart's out of Hudson and turn that plot of land into a nice place for some working families to live. Or a park.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's hard to believe the naivete of this comment, but heh, this is America. There are so many bigger problems to focus on -- take the dozens of apartments Galvan is holding vacant that could easily be given over to working families? Take the the dozens of once affordable apartments that Galvan, under the guise of a "low income" housing developer, is raising the rents on. Why doesn't the City have a Housing Commissioner to begin to tackle the problems of affordable housing? What is the problem with having a gas station and a good store at a very busy intersection in town?

      Delete
  9. Good Morning Carole,

    A quick note about whether I found the Stewart's provided visual enlightening or helpful: Mr. Marshall correctly pointed out that TGOR is your blog, your work, and as such, you get to publish what you want to.

    Councilman Volo, Chair of the Economic Development Committee, and author of his own blog, FOURTH WARD blog, has a responsibility to provide constituents and residents and taxpayers and voters with all of the information he receives.

    Since there is no longer any legitimate local press in the area, people are now even more reliant on their elected
    officials for information. And during the campaign season, then Citizen Volo pledged transparency, among other things, and his blog was going to be the vehicle he used to achieve that goal.

    Hmmm

    Finally, given this is about jobs and taxes, there has been a deafening silence from both Sheena Salvino and Mike Tucker.



    Susan

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Since there is no longer any legitimate local press in the area ..."

      An accurate indictment of the Register-Star following last year's changed business model.

      As for the paper's archive, all of those old stories we need right now, and which disappeared from the website a year ago, have vanished down the memory hole.

      If consumers don't boycott the R-S outright then at least the Council should hire the other rag as the City's Newspaper of Record.

      For now on, any useful city news will come from blogs.

      Delete
    2. Rich Volo's Fourth Ward website has a link which takes one to the complete rezoning application filed with the City by Stewart's. You might want to check it out before getting too far along with cover-up and conspiracy theories.

      After looking over these documents, my primary concerns with the Stewart's application remain essentially the same as before, whether it is couched as an application for a variance or for re-zoning. This corner is a nightmare for traffic control, and I don't see anything in the proposed site plan which makes it any better; if anything, it's worse. There is still no solution to cars exiting the site and turning north on to Route 9; still no answer to cars exiting the site and turning either right or left from the other exit and crossing either 2 or 3 lanes of traffic. Furthermore, the reconfigured parking spaces have cars backing out immediately and directly into the path of traffic coming in from Route 9. As to improvements addressed to pedestrian safety, I see nothing, nothing, nothing at all. I see a bigger store, which Stewart's has told us will sell only more of the same (more milk, juice, bread, ice cream and, of course, lottery tickets) and now 3 instead of 2 gas pumps.

      I realize that since this is the property that Stewart's owns, this is the property they would like to develop. That doesn't necessarily mean it is suitable development property. Less than half a block away down Green Street I see properties, already zoned commercial, which are standing vacant or for sale and which would seem at least at first blush to be infinitely more suitable to the expansion Stewart's has in mind; without continuing or exacerbating the problems of the existing Stewart's location.

      Delete
    3. My comment was completely off-topic, with no implications for the present subject. I'm just frustrated that our already-crappy Newspaper of Record thinks it's okay to shut off its electronic archive to old articles which can assist city officials and residents right now.

      Though O/T, where else can I grouse about this?

      Delete
  10. I am overseas typing on a phone, lucky for Chuck, but here's a small piece. 700 county businesses consulted but not anyone who lives within eyesight and have been paying taxes at that location longer than the gas company. It is a gas company, period. It is not mom and pop Keelers Craigside Dairy.
    I live in Hudson, the city, not Gteenport by choice. We don't have chickens in the city by law for a reason. Chickens are fine for those who choose to live in the county

    ReplyDelete
  11. Good Morning White Whale Limited,

    Language is a powerful tool, isn't it? I didn't use the words cover-up or conspiracy. You introduced those into this conversation. I opted for the more neutral word, transparency.

    And FYI, the original application can be found on the FOURTH WARD Blog; the most recently provided documents to the City, part of the public record, have NOT been updated on Councilmember Volo's blog.

    Susan

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Susan, please join me in challenging every straw man argument presented in these threads and elsewhere (and you have!). I know we can make a dent in this cheapest form of argumentation if we call it out every single time, relentlessly. Eventually, those who depend on the trick to win points at others' expense may hesitate before they post.

      Delete
  12. And good morning to Unknown Susan, Carole and all.

    If there are any differences in the proposed site plan appearing in the link on Council Member's blog, and the most recently provided documents to the City, I would certainly be interested to know about it.

    I believe the concerns expressed in my previous comment are significant and legitimate. They certainly are honest, and not only because I, too, recognize that words are powerful.

    While I would much rather have my concerns addressed in a substantive fashion, rather than descend into a squabble over semantics, I cannot help but note that a "[Lack of]transparency" implies that something is hidden, or covered up, and a remark such as "...Hmmm....deafening silence..." might imply a secret complicity, or conspiracy. As we who recognize the power of words know full well, it is not always necessary to say a thing straight out in order to have it understood.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd answer you, White Whale, by saying that we don't have to divide in order to distinguish.

      When she complained about a lack of transparency, I understood Susan to mean that the other blogger was concealing his own bias even from himself. (At some level we're all doing the same thing being predominantly American, English-speakers, men or women, etc.)

      Navigating unconscious biases takes skill, high standards, and a willingness to exercise full disclosure. In my view, a politician should be held to such standards of "transparency," whereas any old blogger is gloriously free to grind any axe they wish.

      But see what happened when you failed to distinguish in this way. By taking the remark about "transparency" to its extreme, to mean a "conspiracy theory," you swept up my comment too! Suddenly, two people who'd made reasonable comments were forced to defend themselves against a small and careless remark.

      I'm sure you didn't mean to do that, but there it is, and it must be challenged.

      Now have another look at your comment and see that the first paragraph, the one with the straw man argument, is wholly unnecessary for the perfectly reasonable points which followed.

      Delete
  13. https://stewartsshops-my.sharepoint.com/:f:/p/cmarshall/EpSji2e5ZZdIipR1T8SeWpkBrAqK37WpCGq3amqSxtVe_g?e=e9kyrG

    This link will bring you to all application documents. Site Plans will not be amended until the Planning Board stage where we consider elements like landscaping, fueling positions (number and orientation) because again the application before the Council is a zoning amendment not a Stewart’s Site Plan.

    Chuck Marshall
    Stewart’s Shops

    ReplyDelete
  14. Thank you for addressing one of the points of my comments, that is, that the proposed site plan accessible on Council Member's blog is the same site plan as currently under review in the present application.

    Since it appears my "reasonable points" regarding the proposed plan will remain unanswered for the time being, I suppose my next question is:

    How will a zoning amendment serve to solve the problems inherent in the site itself?

    ReplyDelete
  15. The Site Plan cannot be amended without the zoning amendment because it is a non-conforming use meaning it was permitted at one time and the zoning has since changed. Under the current code, expansion or alteration of a non-conforming use is prohibited.

    If we achieve the zone change then we can begin to handle site specific elements and amend the Site Plan accordingly. This is also when NYSDOT becomes more involved.

    Chuck Marshall
    Stewart’s Shops

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, which is why Stewart's re-formed its application from proposed expansion of a non-conforming use, which would require a use variance, to petition for a zoning amendment.

      However, a proposed site plan, amending the existing site configuration, has already been prepared and filed, in advance of any approval. And, as you pointed out, the same proposed site plan, filed with the previous application, now remains on file as part of the current application.

      There is, in fact, nothing in the law which prohibits further amendment of a proposed site plan prior to decision on the zoning amendment. Until approval is granted, the proposed site plan, regardless of how many changes are made to it, remains just that, proposed, not approved.

      I can think of only two reasons why the applicant would choose not to tweak a proposed plan in order to address and correct obvious problems and deficiencies: 1) the cost of preparing further changes to proposed plans for an application which may not be approved; and 2) the distinct possibility that, no matter how the plan is revised, the problems which exist at this site simply cannot be planned or engineered away.

      Delete
  16. https://www.timesunion.com/business/article/Stewart-s-employee-stock-ownership-plan-creating-12809460.php

    Susan

    ReplyDelete
  17. "Straw man is a common form of argument and is an informal fallacy based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent's argument, while actually refuting an argument that was not presented by that opponent. One who engages in this fallacy is said to be 'attacking a straw man.'"

    ReplyDelete