Monday, July 2, 2018

Stewart's There and Here

In April, Gossips reported the story of the plan by Stewart's Shops to build a convenience store and gas station in Voorheesville. To summarize, in the spring of 2016, Stewart's purchased Smith's Tavern, an iconic pizzeria in the heart of the village. The plan was to demolish the building and construct a convenience store and gas station in its stead.

On June 13, 2017, the Village Planning Commission, worried about pedestrian safety as well as flooding and erosion (the site backs up on Vly Creek), requested an in-depth environmental review of the project. Stewart's threatened to sue. Chuck Marshall, real estate representative for Stewart's, complained to the Altamont Enterprise that, "of the over 300 shops operated by Stewart's . . . no other municipality had required an in-depth environmental review."

Two weeks later, on June 27, 2017, the Village Board adopted a moratorium on development to allow work on Voorheesville's first comprehensive land-use plan to be completed. The six-month moratorium could be extended by additional six-month periods, and in November 2017, it was. In May 2018, a draft of Voorheesville's new comprehensive plan was made available. The new plan, not yet adopted, rezones the area in which Smith's Tavern is located as the "Creekside Commercial District." The Altamont Enterprise explained the impact of the proposed new zoning:
That new district, under the proposed plan, would not allow for a Stewart's Shop let alone one with a gas station attached.
That's because as a "use," Stewart's Shop "does not promote the desired character for this district." Specifically, it is a "Formula Business," which according to the plan is "required by contractual or other arrangements to be virtually identical to businesses in other communities because of standardized architecture, services, merchandise, decor, uniforms and the like."
As a consequence of the proposed new zoning, the Altamont Enterprise reported on June 14: "Stewart's Shops to sell former Smitty's." Marshall is quoted in the article as saying the property could be on the market "as soon as next week."

Compare the Stewart's story here in Hudson, which has some common elements: Stewart's desire to develop; a need for a new comprehensive plan (our current one was adopted in 2002); concern about formula businesses. The differences are: Stewart's is already here, has been here for forty-some years, and has been a nonconforming use for all that time; Hudson already has legislation in place banning formula businesses; the outcome of the story in Hudson is likely to be very different.

At its June 27 meeting, the Common Council Legal Committee, made up of John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward), who chairs the committee, Rich Volo (Fourth Ward), and Shershah Mizan (Third Ward), agreed to move forward to the full Council a new amendment to the zoning code in response to Stewart's, and now also Scali's (both nonconforming uses in a residential district), desire for a zoning change. The new amendment, which applies only to R-2 and R-2H districts, would allow "any building or portion thereof, the use of which is currently a non-conforming use within the zoning district," to be "renovated, replaced, and/or expanded," with these provisions:
(a) the non conforming use has been established and has operated continuously for a period of greater than twenty years in the R-2H zone;
(b) the owner demonstrates mitigation of impacts of the renovated building to the surrounding neighborhood to the satisfaction of the Planning Board. . . . Any mitigation required shall be set forth in resolution by the Planning Board and/or through a host community benefit of agreement between the owner and the City Council [sic] for the purposes of long term enforcement;
(c) the construction of the renovated building is completed upon the parcel or adjacent parcel(s) upon which the non-conforming building currently exists;
(d) the renovated building shall not be more than 1x greater than the existing structure of the non-conforming use;
(e) the construction of the renovated building shall create no new additional non-compliance with the Bulk and Area Regulations for the zoning district.
This amendment seems worded to give Stewart's exactly what they want. They can build a new building twice the size of the current one and demolish two houses in the process, and the bugbear of spot zoning is avoided because the proposed changes will not benefit a single property owner. The owners of Scali's get to expand their building, too. 

What's sweetening the deal is the "host community benefit agreement." The last time a corporation offered Hudson a host community benefit agreement it was St. Lawrence Cement, so many of us are conditioned to believe that nothing good comes with the offer of such an agreement. What was revealed at the Legal Committee meeting last Thursday is that the nature of the benefit being discussed is money to help finance a new comprehensive plan and comprehensive zoning revisions. These are two things that the City definitely needs. Our current comprehensive plan was done in 2002, and people are forever complaining about our antiquated zoning code, which was adopted fifty years ago and seems often to apply suburban planning principles to our very urban built environment. But unlike Voorheesville, where they put a moratorium on development until they completed their comprehensive plan, what's purposed in Hudson is amending the zoning to enable two fairly neighborhood altering projects and then, after the horse has left the barn, revising the comprehensive plan.

At the meeting, Gossips asked Rosenthal what if a revised comprehensive plan came to the conclusion that a super-sized Stewart's and a larger Scali's with a larger parking lot, with the loss of residential buildings such expansions would necessitate, wasn't in keeping with what the city envisions for its future. He said he didn't think that would happen, but he was willing to take the chance.


  1. OMG. Scali's is already a nuisance in our neighborhood. The sound of their air conditioning unit, the fact that their employees park along the residential street (Aitken Ave) such that people who live there can't park, and the bright lights late at night on the front of their awning and the garish mural on the side of their building are all extremely intrusive. We live with it because it's been there all along but making it MORE and BIGGER is not what we want. Furthermore, one of the houses impacted is on the National Register, so that changing this to a nonconforming overlay would be further detrimental.

  2. As a resident in line of sight of Scali's I am not pleased to hear they want to expand further. I hate the gaudy mural, bright lights,and employees taking up my street with their parking. Where exactly are they planning to expand? Knocking down homes behind it? And Stewarts is on the other side of me. Ugh.

  3. Tore down farms to build endless shopping centers along Fairview... same, or different?

  4. My garage is now a bicycle shop and there will be am apartment above. I am between the two, if special rights are going to be awarded to non resident businesses I shall also drink from the same trough.

  5. I hope these aldermen keep in mind that selling out to Stewart's is a good way to not get re-elected.

    Hudson's government is an outrageous and illegitimate corporatocracy, just like the national and state systems of government in this country.

    We should begin holding them to a higher standard: by making sure the aldermen who enact this law never hold office again.

  6. What a surprising disappointment.

    The more things change here the more they stay the same.

  7. A challenge faced by many who are new to government - one they seldom anticipated from the outside - is suddenly having to balance many legitimate interests towards a formative solution.

    At Gossips we can nit-pick about this or that, but our representatives must actually decide things. Those who don't learn the art of compromise are easily side-lined or left behind (and what are their chances of being reelected?).

    A "higher standard" begins with being able to think, and that's rare enough in government!

    Then, our Aldermen must learn to work with one another, entailing a capacity for reasonable compromise. Just saying NO all the time to whatever doesn't go your way frequently conceals a lack of leadership skills. It's the mirror-image of saying YES to whatever the latest special interest dictates, but is that really what's happening here?

    This Council is the brightest Hudson has ever seen. This means that our representatives - or most of them anyway - are looking at all sides. Everything is on the table. If in the end Stewart's proposals come to grief, you first find out what's possible, what's available. You leverage whatever opportunity you can to make the most of any negotiation.

    When I read raoul duke's cynical comment above, it's ironic that the high-minded tone combined with the threat of voter retaliation (both are populist tropes) will have the effect of ghettoizing the Aldermen. This thread and this post will draw the Aldermen into themselves as a group encircled by hostile, uncompromising cynics. We've seen it before when the criticism was well-founded, but this time it isn't. Or not yet. The harshness of these criticisms is tellingly premature.

    Even if we can't see beyond our parochial interests, the Council knows that Hudson desperately needs comprehensive planning. What if a dialogue with Stewart's can get us there? Better yet, what if Stewart's can pay for it?! We avoided spot zoning only to reject the proposed overlay district. Then we rejected fiddling with the definition of nonconforming uses in the Code. These were probably all for the best, but is the idea to never compromise at all? Would raoul duke dress that up as leadership?! Try "reactionary" instead.

    The Council is mulling over some serious opportunities (/compromises) which can move this city forward immeasurably. In the meantime, my fellow commenters have zero responsibilities and no suggestions other than NO. Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees.

  8. This is exactly what happens when a town and its representatives have no vision for the future.

    It's compromise by a thousand cuts.

    1. Realizing "vision" usually requires a balancing of interests, or a price paid by all parties.

      Otherwise, don't people far and wide join their local governments to be able to tell their neighbors what they may or may not do?

      That's how it looks to me, and yet that's not what's happening here.

  9. It seems like a very creative circumvention of the spot zoning prohibition. The loss of the two multi family dwellings is unfortunate, but at least the balance of the neighborhood has not been put at risk, and it is not a done deal, until the details are fleshed out, and an agreement is reached about how much money will be put it. So assuming this becomes law, I don't think it is the end of the world as it were - yet.

  10. "give them an inch and they'll take a mile"

    1. Not all companies are the same, and anyway you write the agreement so that no one can take a mile.

      Your perspective is understandably colored by Hudson's past - even its recent past - but if the public never allows for the possibility of good actors in local government then it risks the withering of everyone's political instincts, politicians included, to affect good governance.

      We're standing at the threshold of an amazing opportunity, which is to plan the City's next two decades ON OUR OWN TERMS. Why does no one see that?

  11. Why do you think expanding commercial properties in residential areas is a new amazing opportunity ?

    1. But Scali's has no expansion plan, and someone would have to sell them a neighboring property to do it.

      And no one is even interested to find out what Stewart's is offering to the City?

      Is the resistance about affordable housing? Historic preservation? I don't get it, I mean aside from the NIMBY angle (which I do get).

      For everyone else, though, it smacks a bit like snobbery. Using one brush to paint all corporations as "evil," as the Planning Board recently did, is jejune and snobbish.

      I don't find any alternatives here, and no fresh thoughts aside from Mr. Dunn's comment. How can we move Hudson's economy forward in a way that benefits every demographic? I hear plenty of cant, but no practical suggestions.

      Let's flesh out some details and see where it takes us. We have an opportunity here.

    2. At the Legal Committee meeting, Steve Scali said he wanted to expand his restaurant, and the tax rolls reveal that he already owns the house immediately behind his building, 191 Green Street.

    3. Thanks for the correction.

      I don't think it's right for people to say, though, that our representatives have no vision. I think it's the opposite case, and then residents can reign in that vision after we see what emerges in negotiations.

      I've also heard some dreadful things about Stewart's that aren't true.

      I'd like to hear the alternate plan for Hudson. What's the long-term idea for Hudson's survival? Sure tourism is swell, but it's also fickle.

      Is that the plan for Hudson then, tourism? If yes, then that's what I'd say is lacking in "vision."

  12. as the auto industry plans to transition to electric vehicles, NYS and National Grid provide $9500 toward the purchase of an electric vehicle and 29 different models from all the makers qualify, the city plans to expand a gas station? might as well bring back coal if you call that planning.

  13. Why are we testing all our planning ideas and visions for the future about commercialization and traffic and residential spaces on this poor space, which has been commericalized and trafficked for 50 years. All this Stewarts proposal is doing is improving that commercialized and trafficked intersection: it will be prettier, safer and more efficient, not to mention continue to offer grocery and gasoline services, as well as jobs. This Stewarts proposal is a win-win for Hudson. Why not take advantage of it. What I suggest that the anti-commercial, anti-combustible engine folks do is look at the rest of Hudson and start planning for the future there! Let's be pro-active not re-active. There are plenty of other windmills to tilt at here.