Friday, May 18, 2018

ZBA Punts

In September 2017, Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton asked 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 request seemed pretty clear. The ZBA's response seems anything but clear.

The ZBA passed the task off to the engineers at Barton & Loguidice, who studied a number of City documents and submitted their findings in November 2017. Their report concluded: 
After review of the documents . . . , it appears that the intent of the LWRP (Local Waterfront Revitalization Program) and associated zoning amendments was to include the then-proposed South Bay truck route along the causeway and to the Front Street property frontage within the Core Riverfront (C-R) zoning district. The discussion, considerations, and figures within these documents reasonably convey this intent. As shown on the official zoning map of the City of Hudson, the illustration of the C-R district termination at the railroad tracks as opposed to the Front Street property frontage would appear to be in error.
The documents referenced in the statement above are the City of Hudson Code, Chapter 325: Zoning; Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP); LWRP Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement; LWRP Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement; and the LWRP State Environmental Quality Review Act Findings Statement.

This past Wednesday, after revisiting the issue in February and March and taking the intervening two months to read and digest documents submitted at the public hearing held in March, the ZBA decided it was time to make the determination that had been requested. ZBA member Steve Dunn had prepared a memo and statement of his recommendations--a statement that seemed to address exactly what the ZBA was asked to do: determine "the exact location of the boundaries between the Core Riverfront (C-R) District and the Recreation Conservation (R-C) District." 
The ZBA finds that the boundaries of the CR zoning district in the City of Hudson are as follows:
It is bounded on its west by the Hudson River, on its north by Dock Street, on its east by the Amtrak railroad tracks, and on its south side the tail of the district terminates at the railroad tracks as is depicted on the Hudson zoning map. Except for where the tail of the Core Riverfront district departs from the haul road to terminate at the railroad tracks, the tail of the Core Riverfront zoning district contains the haul road, and has boundaries that are defined by the current location of the haul road, with a width which is the same as the width of the existing haul road. 
The discussion that ensued was hard to comprehend, even for someone who's been following this story since the beginning. There are two questions that need to be answered: Where does the "tail" join the "body" of the Core Riverfront District? What is the width of the tail as it extends through South Bay? The second is especially critical because, if the width is not established, there is no way to determine if proposals to widen, move, or otherwise alter the "haul road" spill out of the Core Riverfront District and encroach on the Recreation Conservation District. 

Reacting to Dunn's statement, Lisa Kenneally who chairs the ZBA, seemed to redefine the task set them. "We were asked to have the engineers define it, and we've done that," she told Dunn. She went on to say, "The intent of the LWRP was not carried through, but we cannot change it. The map is the legally approved definition." City attorney Andy Howard, sitting in for Mitch Khosrova as counsel to the ZBA, added, "The district is not defined as Steve defined it. . . . The ZBA does not have the authority to create a definition. The only definition of the district is the map." 

The discussion went on for a while, with Dunn insisting that if they don't define the width of the tail, "we leave an ambiguity, and we have not done our job." Howard suggested that the ZBA could make a finding that the map does not have the specificity for the Core Riverfront District provided for other districts, because the "tail" is not defined by physical objects, such as streets or railroad tracks. Along the way, it was pointed out that only the Common Council has the authority to amend the map or create a definition. 

In the end, ZBA member Russ Gibson moved that "we respond that the zoning map is correct, but if the Common Council needs the zone defined specifically, they must undertake it themselves." Six members of the ZBA--Gibson, Kenneally, Theresa Joyner, Kathy Harter, Mary Ellen Pierro, and Myron Polenberg--voted in support of the motion; Dunn was the only dissenter. Earlier in the discussion, Howard told the board, "If you do decide to vote, you need corporation counsel to prepare a resolution." Presumably, he or Khosrova will prepare such a resolution, based on the motion set forth for the ZBA to vote on next month.

1 comment:

  1. Just to clarify a couple of matters: 1) Andy Howard agreed that the Council only had the power to clarify that zoning district boundaries prospectively, and not retrospectively, and 2) it is my opinion after researching the matter that only the ZBA has the power to clarify ambiguities in the existing map, and it has the duty to do so, as an intermediate step to someone potentially going to court over the matter. The policy behind inserting the ZBA in the process, was the hope that it would reduce the number of cases of this nature that would be filed in court, thereby burdening the courts.

    So the intermediate step in the anticipated process has run into a glitch.

    I will leave it at that.