The first to speak was Kristal Heinz, who declared, as she did at the Common Council public hearing, her support for the legislation, asserting that the two businesses that would benefit from the law "have been here for a long time." After Heinz's comment, I stated my opposition to the law, wondering why the Council had never pursued Local Law No. 9 of 2017, which would have addressed Stewart's complaint that Hudson's zoning prevented making any improvements to the convenience store, without enabling Stewart's to double the size of its facility and demolish two houses in the process, and would also have solved some other zoning issues in the city at the same time.
Next to speak was Michael LeSawyer, whose house, where he has lived for the better part of the past sixty years, is directly across Fairview Avenue from Stewart's. LeSawyer argued that Stewart's and Scali's "have not established a need to change a neighborhood that has existed for a lot longer than twenty years." (The zoning amendment applies specifically to a nonconforming use that "has been established and has been operated continuously for a period of greater than twenty years.") LeSawyer predicted the Stewart's expansion, which involves demolishing two houses, "will look like a bomb went off the neighborhood" and warned, "It's not going to look better." He noted there is no guarantee of what a new Stewart's would look like and commented, "We're doing a lot of things for wanna, maybe, gonna get." He complained that the Council had voted unanimously to enact the amendment "without discussion or review" and called it "an embarrassment." He brought up the dog park, where a plan supported by many Hudson residents was jettisoned by the objections of just five households. Of the Stewart's expansion he said, "A lot of people are concerned and don't want it," and contended that only Stewart's would benefit, marveling at the willingness to "change our zoning for a gas station." LeSawyer concluded, "I'm opposed. It's wrong all across the board."
Heinz then spoke for a second time to rebut LeSawyer, saying it was unfair to characterize the Council as voting to enact the amendment "without discussion or review" and insisting that amending the zoning was only the first step in the process of designing an expanded Stewart's.
Architect and urban designer Matthew Frederick said he was struggling with the justification for Local Law No. 5. "If we are changing the law, we need to know what economic opportunities justify it." He also questioned the rationale for specifying in the law that the two nonconforming uses could double in size. He noted that Stewart's and Scali's both are suburban in character, located in an urban residential neighborhood. He concluded his remarks by saying he saw no justification "economically or urbanistically" for the zoning amendment and what it would enable.
Alderman Rich Volo (Fourth Ward), who voted on November 20 to enact the legislation, then spoke, saying that he thought the Council "could have done more due diligence" before voting on the legislation, noting that it had not been put before the Zoning Board.
Mayor Rick Rector then read written comments he had received, one of them being from former Third Ward alderman and attorney John Friedman. Friedman questioned the structure and language of the law, making reference to Ken Dow's criticism of the law expressed in the letter originally addressed to the Planning Board, and warned that the issues of spot zoning and legislative licensing "will very likely lead to suits against the City on due process grounds." He was skeptical of the claim that the Council had given serious consideration to the issues raised by Dow:
I am, frankly, appalled that Mr. Dow's scholarship has been so casually brushed aside when clearly the aldermen hadn't read it--for if they had, they would have had questions, and they had none. It beggars belief that a Council composed entirely of land use and legal neophytes could digest Mr. Dow's work without question and then discard it completely.Friedman concluded that too many questions remained about "the structure and legal import of this measure" and urged the mayor to veto it.
Libby Coreno, attorney for Stewart's Shops, arrived at the hearing late. When Rector invited her to speak she said, as she has before, in an effort to minimize the significance of demolishing six dwelling units, that the City needed to explore housing initiatives and develop a "large-scale land use policy," complained, as she has before, that the City's current zoning gave Stewart's "no ability to modify, update, or improve its store," and contended that "Stewart's is a jobs provider and cares about providing jobs." She went on to say that Stewart's just wanted to "stay and remain and be a jobs creator in Hudson."
The public hearing lasted for twenty minutes. It is not known what action the mayor will take.
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