Saturday, March 24, 2018

Zoning Boundaries in South Bay and the ZBA

In September 2017, Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton submitted a request to the Zoning Board of Appeals for "a determination of the exact location of the boundaries between the Core Riverfront (C-R) District and the Recreation Conservation (R-C) District" in South Bay. The ZBA assigned the task of determining the exact location of the boundaries to the engineering firm Barton & Loguidice, who studied a number of City documents and submitted their findings in November 2017.

At its February meeting, the ZBA got back to considering the mayor's request and the information provided by Barton & Loguidice and announced they would have a public hearing about the issue before making their final determination. That public hearing took place this past Thursday, March 22.

Although the benches at City Hall were filled with people, most apparently there for the public hearing, no one seemed to want to speak. When it appeared the public hearing might close before anyone spoke, I rose to express the opinion that this determination was of great importance and would have significant impact on development at the waterfront and to reiterate what I had said back in November that the information from Barton & Loguidice was incomplete because they had not determined the width of the "tail" of the Core Riverfront District as it makes its way through the Recreational Conservation District. If the width were not established, the boundary between the C-R and R-C districts in South Bay would be fluid. The road could be widened, moved, and could encroach without constraint into the R-C District. 

After I sat down and ZBA chair Lisa Kenneally asked if there were any other comments, seemingly with the expectation that there were none, Timothy O'Connor swept into the room. On behalf of the South Bay Task Force, O'Connor had submitted by email that afternoon an extensive study of the issue, which represented the group's public comment. There was some question about whether or not the board would accept written comments and if written comments needed to be submitted ten days before the public hearing just as applications to the ZBA for variances needed submitted ten days before a meeting. When O'Connor argued that he'd been up all night preparing the materials, ZBA member Russ Gibson told him, "You had a whole month." In the end, the ZBA agreed to accept into the record O'Connor's document and a second document, which identified inconsistencies and errors in maps submitted by P. J. Prendergast, the engineer for Colarusso, in the project narrative for the proposed haul road.

In his oral comments during the hearing, O'Connor called the determination "the biggest government decision since the St. Lawrence Cement decision" and said it would "put the finishing touch on the zoning for South Bay." He argued that the terms causeway and road were synonymous and suggested that the width of the road in 2011, when the zoning was adopted, should determine the width of the Core Riverfront District as it extends through the Recreational Conservation District.

When the public hearing was closed and the ZBA took up its discussion of the boundaries, Kenneally started out by saying, "The task before the board was to define the boundaries, and we agreed that the engineers had defined what we were looking for." ZBA member Steve Dunn disagreed. He argued that the report from Barton & Loguidice was incomplete because it did not address the actual width of the tail through South Bay. He also disagreed with Barton & Loguidice's conclusion about where the tail merges with the larger part of the Core Riverfront District. Dunn presented a memo to his colleagues on the ZBA, outlining his concerns and his conclusions. He asked that the ZBA request permission from the property owner to walk the haul road to "nail down what is the haul road and what is the causeway," but when he made a motion to that effect, no one seconded it.

As the discussion of zoning maps and the definition of causeway continued, Kenneally said, "I think we're getting beyond our task" and reiterated that the engineers had defined the boundaries. ZBA member Myron Polenberg concurred that the engineers "fulfilled the task they were requested to do." When it was suggested that the board take a month to study the documents submitted by O'Connor and Dunn, Polenberg protested, "Even if we read both documents, how do we remediate? I don't know where to take it from here." Later, Polenberg concluded, "This is beyond our level of competence."

After ZBA counsel Mitch Khosrova pointed out to the board, "There is no rush," Kenneally told the board, "I don't have a problem with taking another month." And so, it was decided that the ZBA would table the issue until April to give the members time to study the documents submitted.


1 comment:

  1. We all pay a price when our legislators kick self-created problems down the road.

    In 2011, and moments before the Common Council voted to amend the zoning to create the Core Riverfront District, the public verbally warned the Council that any vagueness in the description of the new Districts would come back to haunt us. And here we are.

    With the exception of Alderman Ellen Thurston who complained about unanswered questions, the remainder of the Council endorsed the 2011 zoning amendments (with Chris Wagoner a no-show):

    Today, it's apparent that those politicians who created this problem are not accountable in any way. Some are still in public service, and the problem they deferred in 2011 which has already caught up with us seemingly has nothing to do with them! With the exception of Alderman Thurston who was alone in voicing reservations, the names and responsibilities of her erstwhile colleagues are forgotten and divorced from the collective action taken in deferring a known problem.

    Because there's little institutional memory and (save for Gossips) no investigative journalism to speak of in the entire county, our former legislators are totally unaccountable, free to become our future legislators with no ties to their respective records in office.

    Literally minutes before the Council created the new Zoning Districts we warned against leaving any issues with the private road unresolved. It was on that occasion that another frequent commenter here (PM) turned to me and said, "Do you see? In Hudson public comments are no more than window dressing."

    The following refers to a different but related issue - the City limit - which was resurrected by the Colarusso site plan after an older boundary question was kicked down the road from the 19th century.

    County Law, Article 5 § 228 - Disputed town boundaries.

    "Jurisdiction is hereby conferred upon the supreme court and the county court to hear and determine disputed town boundaries in an action brought by any town affected thereby. A certified copy of the judgment containing the courses, distances and fixed monuments shown upon a map or survey shall be filed in the office of the town clerk of each town affected thereby and in the office of the secretary of state within thirty days after the judgment shall have become final. The secretary of state shall cause the same to be printed and published with the session laws."