Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Lively Discussion

The Common Council didn't always meet twice a month. The practice wasn't introduced until 2000, when Ken Cranna was the mayor, and Mary Anne Lemmerman was Council president. The first meeting of the month--the informal meeting--was initiated to introduce new resolutions and legislation, giving the aldermen eight days to consider them before voting on them and also giving the public the opportunity to know what was before the Council before the aldermen voted. In the beginning, it was also a time when the public could express concerns, either on issues before the Council or new issues. Over time, with different Council presidents, the nature of the informal meeting has evolved, but it remains the meeting at which most resolutions and new legislation are introduced.

At the informal Council meeting on Monday night, the proposed amendment to the zoning code for R-2 and R-2H districts (now known as Local Law No. 5 of 2018) was introduced. Presenting the legislation, Council president Tom DePietro reminded everyone that this was "the beginning of a very long process." Later, he elaborated on that process, saying the amendment would have to go to the Hudson and Columbia County planning boards for a recommendation and noting that the amendment, if passed, would only allow any expansion of a nonconforming use to go before the Planning Board for site plan review. 

Asked by DePietro to comment on the proposed amendment, John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee, where the amendment originated, explained that the zoning code was being amended for two "historic businesses"--a term now being used to describe any business that has existed for twenty years or more. He spoke of a community benefit agreement with Stewart's and talked about the need to "move forward and deal with problems." Moving forward and dealing with problems involves "retaining a planner to redo a comprehensive plan." This, Rosenthal said, "will cost a great deal of money," and because the City is "very stressed," he went on to say, "it is our job to engage [with 'corporate actors'] to our benefit." To synopsize, what is being proposed is that the City of Hudson change its zoning to accommodate the desire of Stewart's and presumably also Scali's--two nonconforming uses in districts zoned for one- and two-family houses (R-2) or one- and two-family houses with offices as a conditional use (R-2H)--to expand, demolishing residential properties in the process, in exchange for Stewart's giving the City, in a host community benefit agreement, some yet undetermined amount of money.

Alderman Eileen Halloran (Fifth Ward) proclaimed: 'The chairs of the Legal Committee [Rosenthal] and the Economic Development Committee [Rich Volo] and the city attorney [Andy Howard] are to be commended, because they came up with a solution."

City treasurer Heather Campbell wanted clarification: "They'll get to expand, knocking down buildings on either side, but who makes the decision if what they are offering in exchange is greater than what the City is giving up?" The answer given was the Common Council.

Responding to a question raised by Nick Zachos about a possible conflict of interest posed by "a corporation paying for a comprehensive plan that might benefit them," Rosenthal acknowledged the irony of "carving out exceptions to get money to redo a comprehensive plan when the comprehensive plan might not approve what was given up" but denied it would be a conflict of interest.

Although inviting aldermen and elected officials to comment on the proposed amendment, DePietro postponed public comment until the regular meeting of the Common Council on Tuesday, July 17. His reason for doing so seemed to be to allow time for Nick Pierro, assistant fire chief, to make a presentation to the Council--a presentation that had the effect of validating Rosenthal's assessment that the City is "very stressed." The Fire Department is in urgent need of 82 new oxygen bottles, 42 new air packs, and masks for each fire fighter--the total cost of which is "just under $354,000." Campbell characterized it as "a lot of money we weren't planning for." A bond resolution for the needed funds is expected to be presented to the Common Council at its meeting on July 17.

At the end of the meeting, when DePietro invited public comment, Fourth Ward supervisor Linda Mussmann asked, referring back to the discussion of the zoning amendment: "Is there a number connected to the host agreement?" In further comments, Mussmann complained that instead of fostering "lively discussion" DePietro "shuts it down." In responding, DePietro, in addition to indicating that no amount had been agreed to, asked Mussmann if she would like to report what she is doing on the county level. 

On a motion from Alderman Kamal Johnson (First Ward), the meeting was adjourned, at approximately 7:35 p.m.  


  1. Carol, Do you know what happened at the meeting about the Empire Trail ? I was unable to attend that meeting.

    1. Not much. The presentation of the route through Hudson, which I've published here a few times, by someone from the Hudson Valley Greenway took most of the public hearing, which lasted all of fifteen minutes. There were some questions from members of the audience--Peg Patterson wanted to know why the route wasn't on Warren Street, Claudia Bruce wanted to know about accommodation for walkers, Kristal Heinz asked about signage and lane painting. No one actually made a comment, for or against the proposed route.

      At the end of the Common Council meeting, Timothy O'Connor, who had missed the public hearing altogether, expressed the opinion that the trail should have been routed on Partition Street instead of Allen Street. The reason for choosing Allen Street was to get cyclists following the trail from the south off Third Street as quickly as possible, because Third Street is a truck route and there are too many accidents along it already. Allen was also determined to be a "quieter street," and the route could use it without eliminating parking (which was something that would have to happen if they used Warren Street). Another advantage of Allen Street is that it feeds into the Ferry Street, so when the new bridge is ready, people following the trail can easily detour down to the river.

    2. Evidently the City is expected to pay for the lane painting, so once you factor in alternate-side parking on Allen Street it's conceivable that the task - and its cost - will be doubled. To compare, Partition Street below 2nd is one-side parking only.

      Also, busier Allen Street will increase the hazard to downhill cyclists that car doors in their paths may open suddenly. It happened to me once and I sustained serious injuries.

      Because that's an experience you never forget, I'd wager that the bureaucrats planning this thing know absolutely nothing about cycling and its hazards. They're more interested in a straight shot to Ferry Street.

      For another example of the poor management of public monies, consider the expensive kayak launch at the City's waterfront park which anyone with a sea kayak knows will flex and damage their craft! I shake my head every time I see it.

      Do the bureaucrats who plan these expenditures ever know a thing about the intended uses the completed projects must serve? They'd sooner trust the faraway businesses with whom they're contracting than consult the actual kayakers, cyclists, tap dancers, [etc.] who'll use the facilities.

      But this has nothing to do with the zoning proposal for which everything is being done by the book. That's why it will take so long if it happens at all. I keep telling people that this is the best Common Council we've ever seen, and that's the reason why. If only our other City boards were run that way, but we'll get there someday.

  2. We don't need a larger Stewart's or Scalis. Period. Certainly tearing down four houses that house at least 20 people is not a good idea in a town where housing cannot meet current demand. Everyone complains that there is not enough low income housing, and then talk about tearing it down. Not logical. And Scalis is already bleeding out into the surrounding neighbourhood. Their employees park on Aitken and other streets. If they increase the footprint there will be even less parking. Not a good idea at all, and their current restaurant size is fully sufficient for the business they do. Hudson is all too willing to sell out to the highest bidder, and Stewart's is dangling some insufficient amount of money to get their way, just as the cement plant did, and the powers that be bought that boondoggle hook, line and sinker. When will we ever learn? Our housing stock is what makes Hudson Hudson. Haven't we lost enough old buildings to shortsightedness?

  3. "a question raised by Nick Zachos about a possible conflict of interest posed by "a corporation paying for a comprehensive plan that might benefit them,"

    Correct me if i am wrong, please, but isn't this exactly what happened when Holcin funded the LWRP ?