Thursday, October 25, 2018

Nothing Is Ever Easy

Steve Dunn, who ran unsuccessfully for Common Council president in 2017, sits on the Zoning Board of Appeals, and was recently appointed to the board of Hudson Development Corporation, has a vision for Hudson and the resources to implement that vision, at least in limited ways. The vision involves maximizing housing density in Hudson by constructing new residential structures on the alleys and easing the parking problems by creating more accommodation for offstreet parking. 

In 2014, Dunn implemented his vision on the north side of town, constructing on Rope Alley a building that extends along the back of 233, 235, and 237 Robinson Street. The building, which is accessed from Robinson Street through a gated courtyard between two original houses which Dunn also owns, contains a residential dwelling over multiple garages.

Recently, Dunn acquired 17-19 Union Street and is trying to apply his philosophy of urban planning there as well. His first effort, creating a curb cut for a parking pad at the front of the house, met with criticism from other property owners on the historic block.

The plans for the rear of the house involve an extension to the original house, as well as a residential structure--a dwelling over a two-car garage--on Partition Street at the back of the property.

The project, which requires area variances for setbacks and for lot coverage, is now before the Zoning Board Appeals. A public hearing on the project began in August and was left open because the owner of an adjacent property raised questions that Jason O'Toole, who was representing Dunn at that meeting, could not answer. After a month's hiatus, because the ZBA would not have a quorum for its September meeting, the public hearing continued on Wednesday, October 17. At the continuation of the hearing, Dunn was present to represent himself, although the appropriateness of that is questionable since he is a member of the ZBA, and the owner of the house next door at 15½ Union Street was represented by attorney Kristal Heinz.

The next-door neighbor has two concerns: (1) because the proposed structure will be just 6 inches from the property line, people will have to come on her property to service and maintain Dunn's property; (2) it will obstruct the view from her house. In response to the first objection, Dunn argued repeatedly that he had allowed her workers to come on his property in order to paint the side of her house. He also maintained that the view from her house would not be impacted by the proposed structure. When it was suggested that Dunn could simply move the building two or three feet from the property line, he protested that he would lose one of the two exterior parking spots that are part of the plan. Dunn told the ZBA he had "reached out" to the owner of the adjacent property, he had asked her to come up from Connecticut, where she currently lives, to walk the property with him, he had traveled to Connecticut to meet with her, but she canceled at the last minute. Heinz told the ZBA that her client felt bullied by Dunn. Meanwhile, members of the ZBA seemed to want Dunn and the owner of the adjacent property to work things out. Lisa Kenneally, who chairs the ZBA, told Dunn, "You're going to be neighbors for a while." ZBA member Myron Polenberg opined, "It's really difficult for me to understand this except for some personal stuff. A lot of properties go from line to line. I think they should settle this thing."

After the discussion had gone on for a bit, Kenneally tried to bring focus by reading the five criteria to be considered when making decisions about area variances.
  1. Will granting the area variance result in an undesirable change in the character of the neighborhood or nearby properties?
  2. Can the benefit sought by the applicant be achieved by some other method?
  3. Is the requested variance substantial?
  4. Will the proposed variance have an adverse effect or impact on the physical or environmental conditions in the neighborhood?
  5. Is the alleged difficulty self-created?
The ZBA's responses were a mix of yeses and nos. 

Mitch Khosrova, counsel to the ZBA, reminded the members that the responses to all the questions didn't have to be no for the board to approve the variances, and Kenneally told her colleagues, "We're kind of crossing the line trying to make neighbors work it out." After various members of the ZBA made other comments, Polenberg moved to grant the area variances. When the vote was taken, three members--Kenneally, Theresa Joyner, and Polenberg--voted in favor; two members--Russ Gibson and MaryEllen Pierro--were opposed. Khosrova pointed out that, since the ZBA is a seven member board, four affirmative votes were needed to grant the variances. Gibson and Pierro indicated that they would change their votes if the setback from the property line were 2 feet instead of 6 inches, and Dunn tried to amend his application on the spot, but it was decided instead that Dunn would return with an amended application, and the project would be back on the agenda for November, when the seventh member of the ZBA, Kathy Harter, would be present.

The ZBA typically meets on the third Wednesday of the month, which in November is the day before Thanksgiving. As a consequence, the ZBA meeting will be rescheduled for November 28, the fourth Wednesday of the month--the same night the Common Council Legal Committee meets. The ZBA, however, will meet in City Hall; the Legal Committee meeting will be held, as it was last night, in the Senior Center at the Galvan Armory.

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