Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Mayor's Public Hearing

About ten people showed up for the mayor's public hearing on Local Law No. 5--four of them aldermen: Rob Bujan (First Ward), Eileen Halloran (Fifth Ward), Dominic Merante (Fifth Ward), and Rich Volo (Fourth Ward). 

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.


  1. All I ever see in the window of Stewart's is a crappy-looking handwritten poster advertising for part time jobs. This is their selling point? A few more part-time jobs (and maybe one or two full time positions if they expand) and better access to gasoline pumps at Stewart's is supposed to improve Hudson's future?

  2. Actually it does if you're someone who chooses to work and needs either a part-time job or a good full time with benefits and either can't walk out to the new ShopRite location (so much for the "Oh that's just a rumor."), or can't afford a taxi back and forth to work. Not everyone who lives in Hudson or Greenport is a trust fund baby, an attorney, or an artist. Susan

    1. URBAN MYTH ... a large portion of the people living in Hudson have trust funds.

  3. bill huston, everyone is neglecting the two most significant improvements on offer: a badly needed redesign of that corner's traffic pattern and a Community Host Benefit Agreement, these costs to be borne by Stewart's.

    Of course the City will be free to spend or squander the agreement money as it likes, but the myopic carping I've heard to date and also read on this blog gets the story all wrong.

    The dollar amount of the agreement, which will be significant, would only be negotiated once the plan is developed. Far from the scenario broadcast here - because St. Lawrence Cement once made such an offer, ergo all such agreements are wicked - Stewart's has shown itself to be an outstanding partner, even offering to work with the Planning Board before the design is finalized. (And incidentally, there's no equivalence between Stewart's and Colarusso's nonconforming uses; the one had a Zoning District grow up around it, while the other knowingly purchased its nonconforming use.)

    If, out of nowhere, Stewart's suddenly becomes a different kind of animal, then the Planning Board doesn't have to approve the project. It's that simple. But to always approach every deal assuming the other's bad faith is itself a kind of bad faith. How can anything ever change or improve under those conditions?

    My own hope is that the Community Host Benefit Agreement can go to updating our 16-year-old Comprehensive Plan, which would otherwise cost a bundle of money we don't have.

    Indeed, that was the whole point and benefit of keeping this in the Common Council's wheelhouse. ZBAs are not equipped to negotiate, nor are they meant to be visionaries. They are appellate boards only, exercising a judicial role.

    In contrast, the present Council (the legislative branch of local government) is already moving towards a comprehensive planning initiative. In that regard, the Planning Board will come to play a tremendous role, but only if we first take up Stewart's offer.

    Unfortunately, and due in part to the way the story's being reported, we'll only appreciate the Common Council's conscious strategy in retrospect, and only if the project comes to pass.

    It's astonishing to witness, but our Aldermen are actually being leaders while it's the public that doesn't get it!

  4. "Trust but verify" is secure in the equation, but Stewart's has given us no reason to believe that it doesn't want the very best for Hudson. On the contrary, so far they've only been an honest, generous, and imaginative partner.

    Meanwhile, Hudson's self-regarding revolutionists are opposing what? The profit motive? Any and all "corporations"? Fossil fuels? The loss of a handful of run-down dwelling units? (That's a concern, yes, but it's totally unfair to decouple the lost units from the City's fresh legislation pressuring owners of multiple properties to bring new units online.)

    After our decades of misery culminated in a successful effort to dump the weighted vote, we finally have a decent, thoughtful Common Council and my neighbors can't see it. I really can't account for people's recalcitrance and sudden lack of vision, particularly when our politicians are looking fifty planning steps into the future to secure Hudson's future. But we can't reach the more exciting steps without the funds to launch the first few.

    Ah, well there's been one change of heart which I simply can't account for: Mr. Vollo's sudden lack of "diligence." He seemed diligent enough at all the meetings I attended. Perhaps I took something for granted, though, when I supposed that everyone was able to see the inappropriateness of a ZBA solution compared with an opportunity to: plan a smarter city (by adopting Smart Code principles next); give the Planning Board the means to become actual planners (Stewart's hopes to initiate this by inviting the Board's input during the planning); update the Comprehensive Plan; and improve the intersection at Green and Fairview.

    For the nay-sayers driven to spare the Code even the least imperfection going forward (or who can't see that widespread overlay districts increase complexity and confusion thanks to multiple, overlapping sets of rules), this is a big opportunity to begin overhauling our messy, antiquated Code. Look up from your books and look forward!

    Everyone complains how difficult it is to move Hudson forward, but when real opportunity knocks we look for self-imposed constraints ("what about uses that are not buildings?"; "what about using the ZBA?"; "what about Colarusso?"; "what about hating corporations?"; "what about x, y and z?"). All of these betray a collective lack of imagination and vision.

    Apparently even the status quo is better than the extended hand of Stewart's, though I haven't heard a single good argument why. It's just unfathomable to me.

    For those who deride the Stewart's chain for its services and its clientele, you are elitists blocking a host of options which will benefit everyone in the city, even snobs (a suitable appeal to self-interest).

  5. perhaps, if the "planners" who explained it and sold it to the entire council had taken the time to sell it to the public. instead, the "public" ain't buying it. not the publics fault.
    the entire council voted unanimously to degrade and devalue #1 Aiken Ave, a home worth well over one million dollars, whose taxes are enormous and paid year after year, who receive little in city services, well perhaps they don't want a Waffle House. did any "planner" knock on their door to explain or solicit input? are these same "planners" responsible for that? while they get to have a say in the design of the new stewarts do they also have experience with building a Waffle House? #2 Aiken Ave, beautiful home always in the best condition, resident local owners of 60 years, do not want a Dunkin Donuts across the street.

    if it was so simple that even the entire council understood, it should have been simple to explain to the public. you ask the public to trust Mr. Scali, stewarts, the good taste of "planners"? three times a week at 1 a.m. the tractor trailer delivers gas to stewarts, it is not quiet, can I call a "planner" at 1 a.m.? maybe i'm confused from lack of sleep.
    some people need to learn to knock on doors and make phone calls for more than just votes in November.
    what is the average life of a comprehensive plan? are cities supposed to make a new one every 12 years? or is it 7? when citizens pay taxes what are those taxes used for? everything but comprehensive plans? will we soon need other than tax money to keep street lights on?
    I have also been informed that the purchase of the Fairview Ave property next door to stewarts has been completed. Before local law #5 is even the law! will good neighbor stewarts now keep the building empty and the city hostage until they get their way?
    Mr. Colarusso please give me your biggest truck to drive on your road in the South Bay, let me be the first, take the mufflers off, turn the "jake" on. I doubt i'll disturb any sleeping children.

    the entire council without discussion voted to degrade, devalue, diminish, my property and the property of my neighbors. despicable, dishonest, deplorable. class action lawsuit here we come.

  6. M - I saw you at all but one of the Council discussions, but enough of your townsfolk want something that's better for everyone. You've got valid complaints (others are just looking for complaints), so you should bring your concerns to the Planning Board next. That's where mitigations are analyzed, not in the Council. It ain't over till it's over. T

  7. the Big one. the first meeting, the room was packed, the "folk", don't use the term again it is demeaning, the citizens spoke, nine out of ten said NO. instead of listening stewarts somehow was given a "do-over" vote in the legal committee. concerned residents were called again to a meeting however the crowd had thinned, most had busy lives, they elected officials to act in their best interests and they trusted they would do so. instead at the meeting they get an official acting in the interests of the oil company. citizens opined and Legal committee appreciated their enthusiasm. If anyone says they appreciate your enthusiasm they don't want you around. They voted "aye" and kicked the can to planning. These committees behaved like "how to" agencies for a client. Never was "no" presented on behalf of the citizenry. They acted like HDC, a development corporation, not a protector of public rights. Legal and Planning then schedule another "do-over", they present it to council as something grand, that they have worked with the people, all is rosy. What they have is a promise from a devil. Rather than listen to angry residents, again, council without discussion votes against the people that elected them.

    this brings us to today, what is the long term "plan". we have a planning committee, tell us. Is it in another twenty years envisioned an even larger stewarts? is a gas station over time supposed to grow as large as the hospital? the proprietors laid out the street grid more than two hundred years ago, they apologize the grid could not be larger but topography became an issue. "topo sucks" was a popular expression in 1693. "you want big, go to Greenport, move into the old Shop-Rite" was heard at many a tavern.

    who doesn't want something better? better phone, better internet, bigger, better, Make America Great Again! I am sorry, I will apologize for the intersection but. everyone gets a turn, I am sorry you have to wait for your turn, everyone gets a turn. pretend you're on the playground, average wait at the light is twenty-one seconds. There are no problems here at Fairview and Green, there are no citizens marching on city hall demanding two lanes of unleaded. there are no ambulances and over turned trucks. lets create a crisis, comprehensive plan, traffic, start a fire, and then be the one to call 911 and be a hero.

  8. M - I do appreciate your frustration, but when I divide up your barrage into its proper categories and sequences you seem to conflate everything to your advantage.

    For instance, Stewart's altered its plan as a result of public meetings, even to the point of inviting the City to contribute to its ultimate plan. That's impressive. It's enlightened. It won't answer to your not liking a gas station across from your house, but there wasn't a thing you could do about that anyway. The gas delivery trucks you complain about will continue to fill the tanks either way, and possibly at the exact same rate (which is probably something you should ask about, but when the time comes at the proper venue).

    In that case it wasn't really about "do-overs" at all, plus, it was Stewart's refreshingly decent approach (yes, built on the company's self-interest) which kept the committees focused on what's best for the whole city.

    Whatever the HDC will become next, this zoning amendment didn't happen like a lot of things in the City's past. You'll counter that there was no "discussion," and that a corporation is automatically a "devil," but neither is true.

    Every discussion I attended was open and transparent, with the Legal Committee practically run like a salon! You know I can be a very harsh critic of City government, but not in this case.

    You're bringing all your arguments to the fore at once, but of your more valid concerns you'll find they only ever belonged to the next step of the process anyway. The Council merely relaxed a zoning constraint, whereas the Planning Board must hash out the details.

    For that reason it's unfair to make the Aldermen out as a bunch of vanity pyros when the Council was never the right venue for evaluating the mitigations you'd like to see. It's unfair because it's out of sequence, and conflates all the steps into a single step. Government just isn't set up that way.

    Stewart's could easily have remained at your intersection for a long time yet, but from your barrage someone might think you were opposing a proposal for a new gas station. As a style of argument, that's probably your Achilles heel.

    But I'm glad to learn that the problems at the intersection are less bad then people suppose. I hope you'll put that in a comment if and when some outfit like Creighton Manning is hired to conduct a study. - T

  9. when the Fire Dept. boot drive is conflated to the need for a bigger gas station and accepted by a room full of adults as evidence, the ship can not be saved.