Of the fifteen people who made statements during the public hearing, fourteen expressed concerns about Colarusso and its negative impacts on the city and the waterfront and urged the Planning Board to make a positive declaration and do a full Environmental Impact Study under SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act). Several speakers quoted the City's LWRP and made reference to the decision by Supreme Court Justice Michael Melkonian at the beginning of this year, dismissing Colarusso's lawsuit against the City of Hudson.
The lone defender of Colarusso, Dominick Kappel said he had done his own study of trucks at Third and Columbia streets and reported that only 198 of the 268 that passed there were Colarusso trucks. (He didn't indicate the time frame for his observation.) He called on the Planning Board to "approve the road" for safety reasons and concluded by declaring: "Colarusso has been here for a hundred years and will stay here for a hundred years." Later in the hearing, he claimed that "Colarusso secured that $10 million DRI grant."
In his comments, Sam Pratt made the point, as Gossips did in a post last week, that nothing was preventing Colarusso from building its industrial road from Route 9G to the quarry and getting trucks off city streets now. Gossips said the City was being bullied. Pratt pulled no punches and called it "blackmail." Pratt challenged Paul Colarusso, who was in the audience: "Do it tomorrow if you really want to help Columbia Street."
In her comments, Melissa Auf der Maur brought up a topic that we have heard very little about in the past six years: the 4.4 acres south of the dock, which were transferred illegally in a land swap in 1981 between the City with the cement company that became Holcim and which therefore still belong to the City of Hudson. Speaking of this parcel of land, Auf der Maur declared, "The City owes it to its people to provide access to the waterfront."
This parcel has a long history that some may have forgotten and others may never have known. The 1996 Vision Plan imagined a use for the land south of the dock and suggested the City "try to secure an easement for bicycles and pedestrians on the existing road to allow access to the southern open space and South Bay" and also made these recommendations:
Southern Open Space This area consists of two land projections into the Hudson River. It is bordered by the rail lines to the east and by the Independent Cement Company to the north. . . . Potential uses of this would include leaving the land as open space. There also may be the opportunity to encourage fishing along these edges. A second alternative would be to provide a boat ramp in the existing embayments. Another alternative may be to create a boat ramp at the southern land projection with limited parking at that site. . . .Hudson's Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP), adopted by the Common Council in 2011, proposed for this site what it called the South Bay Riverfront Park/Beach.
The park envisioned for this parcel is described on page 133 of the LWRP:
An opportunity exists to establish additional park land on the southern portion of the Holcim property. The approximately seven acre vacant property offers two tidal basins including a small beach area, existing woodlands and over 1,500 feet of riverfront. These features combine to make this a potentially significant open space and recreational asset for the community. Subject to a feasibility study including an assessment of whether contamination exists on the property, the LWRP envisions creation of a park for swimming, fishing, and passive recreation opportunities, in addition to hiking, biking and nature trails. . . .Page 128 of the LWRP acknowledges, "Creation of the South Bay Riverfront Park . . . is dependent upon obtaining some form of title or ownership to the approximately 7 acres of riverfront land owned by Holcim and located south of their port."
The LWRP was adopted by the Common Council at the end of November 2011, and for the next couple of years, city government seemed to be devoted to getting those seven acres, which turned out to be closer to ten acres--9.96 acres to be exact. The people of Hudson were given to understand that acquiring that parcel was a condition for the Department of State to review and approve the LWRP. In September 2012, Mayor William Hallenbeck, in an interview on WGXC, reported that Holcim was weighing its options, which included selling the parcel to some entity other than the City of Hudson. Hallenbeck also said the City was considering taking the parcel by eminent domain. In February 2013, the Common Council passed a "Resolution Authorizing the Transfer of Riverfront Land to the City of Hudson."
The Mayor is hereby authorized and directed to enter into all documents and contracts necessary to effectuate transfer of the Parcel and related easements to the City of Hudson upon review of said documents by the Corporation Counsel, and to provide documentation for a tax credit to Holcim for transferring the Parcel as a gift to the City.Although the City was ready to enter into an agreement, Holcim was not. The contract had been prepared, by Holcim's own attorneys, but Holcim was not signing it. In April 2013, the Council passed a resolution rescinding the February resolution if Holcim did not sign the documents transferring ownership of the property by May 15, 2013. That didn't happen, and an email from then city attorney Cheryl Roberts to Holcim attorney Donald Stever, sent on January 30, 2013, secured in a FOIL request by The Valley Alliance, revealed why. On the topic of the land transfer, Roberts wrote:
The City is prepared and will move forward with eminent domain proceedings at its February meeting unless your client is prepared to move forward with this transaction. The City may also be prepared to meet with the private entity to whom Holcim is selling the property and Holcim if such a meeting would be of assistance.Then on June 3, 2013, The Valley Alliance announced a surprising discovery: the City already owned 4.4 of the 9.9 acres it was negotiating with Holcim to acquire.
In 1981, the City of Hudson had swapped the 4.4 acres on the waterfront for an upland parcel owned by the cement company, and that exchange had been in violation of General City Law § 20 (Chapter 247 of the 1913 Laws of New York), which bars the alienation of waterfront lands: "the rights of a city in and to its water front, ferries, bridges, wharf property, land under water, public landings, wharves, docks, streets, avenues, parks, and all other public places, are hereby declared to be inalienable."
The discovery was greeted with skepticism, and the City spent several months vetting The Valley Alliance's research. But on October 15, Moore announced that the title search commissioned to test the veracity of the assertion confirmed that The Valley Alliance was right: the City was negotiating with Holcim for land it already owned. Moore's statement was reported by Gossips the next day and recorded in the minutes of the Common Council.
Now, the skepticism seems to have returned. Last night, responding to Auf der Maur, Walter Chatham, who chairs the Planning Board, said, "This board cannot address the issue of ownership." Chatham claimed the board had no proof to support the claim that the City still owned the 4.4 acres. Planning Board member Laura Margolis asked, "If we have no proof, can we send someone out to seek the proof?" At which time, Pratt interjected, "The Planning Board has received a lot of information about the 4.4 acres."
Among the information in the Planning Board's possession is a memo dated August 11, 2019, from former city attorney Ken Dow, which states, among other things, the following:
When a municipal transaction such as this is void because it was outside of the authority to act, it cannot be made valid, ratified, or its purpose achieved by subsequent action or failure to act. Moreover, there is no time period after which a void action becomes effective.Dow cites case law to support this. His memo concludes:
I believe that the Planning Board would be making a serious mistake to proceed on the basis of Colarusso's ownership of the 4.4 acres. The status of this parcel is fundamental to evaluating the dock operations' impact on "adjacent properties". . . . It is crucial that the Planning Board get this right.On Tuesday night, it was decided that the public hearing would be kept open for both written and oral comments. When Karla Roberts asked what "new stuff" the board might need to make its decision, Chatham quipped, "A deed that shows the City owns the 4.4 acres."
The next meeting of the Planning Board is scheduled to take place on September 10 at 6:00 p.m.
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