Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Rash Words at the Planning Board Meeting

On November 17, Gossips reported: "[I]t was decided that before the next Planning Board meeting, which is scheduled for December 10, there would be a workshop session during which all the questions members of the Planning Board had about the project would be answered." That workshop session did not happen before the December meeting of the Planning Board, although apparently efforts were made to schedule it, so at last night's meeting, after the public hearing on the Colarusso application had been adjourned, Planning Board chair Walter Chatham announced that the "work session" would take place after new business had been considered. 

This brought criticism both from Chris McManus, who demanded that the work session be postponed until January "when there will be new people on the board," and from attorney John Lyons, who protested that there had been no notification of the work session. McManus claimed "lots of people would be in the room if they knew this was going to happen." The barrage of objections, especially from McManus, provoked Chatham to snap, "Stop it. Stop it right now. You're really pissing me off." Later, Chatham elaborated, "I strenuously object to people saying we should not receive information."       

The work session did go forward. starting at 8:20 p.m. (and Gossips will report on it later), but before it did, Planning Board member Laura Margolis asked that the minutes for the November meeting be amended to include mention of the threatening comments made by Carmine Pierro to Chatham and herself after the board had denied approval for his plan to create a self storage facility at the corner of Fairview Avenue and Oakwood Boulevard. Gossips has reported that Pierro told Chatham, "You're gonna be gone in sixty-two days." Pierro also made a comment to Margolis that she said made her feel so threatened she "considered additional security for her house." Board members who witnessed it reported that Pierro's wife, Leitha, told Brian Nicholson, the neighbor who had spoken out against the project, "You really screwed us. Watch your back."

In response to Margolis's concerns, the Planning Board passed a resolution condemning "aggressive verbal or physical behavior toward members of the Planning Board at any time." That's how it is in the "Friendly City."


  1. This was the third time (at least) that Chatham has had to apologize for his words at a meeting this year. On two previous occasions, he blew up at me, later apologizing for “losing his chill” (his phrase).

    One of the occasions arose after he simply made up a vote which had never occurred; when I cited the previous minutes, proving the vote has not occurred, he blew up — until the secretary verified that I was correct.

    Chatham has likewise dismissed expert testimony and memoranda from experts such as Ken Dow, telling me that “I need more than lawyers citing a bunch of laws!”

    It’s very odd, to say the least.

  2. In any case, Chatham resigned shortly after the meeting, so I guess his behavior is now moot:

  3. Someone suggested a different word or phrase than "work session" which would have solved the whole problem. This seemed to agree with everyone, but I can't recall the word.

  4. The Colarusso haul road review has been a mess since Day #1. Under the present leadership, the Planning Board couldn't even manage to extract the most basic truck traffic information from the applicant. One of the meeting venues was completely inadequate, and the Board couldn't even manage to provide proper audio for the benefit of those in attendance. The Chair frequently interrupted citizens who were in the middle of offering comments to the Planning Board. There were efforts made to short-cut the SEQRA process and just cut a deal with the company, which is completely out of bounds. The Board leadership also ignored a significant land title issue involving 4.4 critical acres on the waterfront. The good news is that there were so many procedural deficiencies in the process that if residents are forced to file a lawsuit, a court will likely invalidate the entire review.

    And on top of the circus in Hudson, the Town of Greenport failed miserably in their role as Lead Agency. Their Planning Board couldn't manage to find even one impact that was worthy of serious review. Greenport ignored the many impacts on Hudson, which violated their mandate to scrutinize the entire haul road project.

    This whole thing has been an embarrassment for our community. Hopefully the incoming administration will recognize that our waterfront is in jeopardy, and will make effective appointments that will to a decent outcome.

    1. Agreed, Greenport failed miserably in its role as Lead Agency and also succeeded wildly in its allegiance to the applicant. And that's thanks to SEQRA itself which can work miracles in the wrong hands.

  5. Carole if you don't mind I fixed a typo here.....

    I trust they will also recognize what a key issue this is for all of Hudson, particularly from the standpoint of expanding public space and building a modern, diversified economy that generates good jobs for our people. A waterfront integrated with the rest of the city and offering strong opportunities for mixed-use development is critical to Hudson’s future as a vibrant small city. Loud, dusty, low-employment industrial uses, fed by increasing (potentially limitless) truck traffic, are a future killer. It will obliterate other uses and make impossible the vision that Hudson has had since the 80s. It is exactly why Troy recently rejected a very similar proposal just a few months ago.

    Another thing that needs to be recognized is the way the company has been playing off neighborhood against neighborhood throughout this saga, running heavy gravel trucks up and down fragile streets and essentially blaming efforts to save our waterfront for that traffic. Colarusso could quickly divert that traffic to the gravel road already in place and previously used for that purpose by its predecessors. It’s just not the road they want (which is a busy two-lane truckway through our wetlands), and so they keep the pressure up while the people of Hudson argue about it.

    Truck traffic in Hudson is a serious problem and has been for a long time. That’s why, thanks to Didi Barrett, funds have been allocated by the state to study ways of moving the state truck route out of town. I suggest we save our waterfront AND focus on that effort simultaneously. A great small city shouldn’t have to choose between its waterfront and its streets.

  6. Was there an outcome from the 'work session' or was Mr. Chatham's resignation the only one. What does that mean? Will there be another Planning Board meeting on the subject in January prior to the new administration coming in or after.....? As Peter says the whole thing is a mess and I believe requires a new look. The citizens are not being satified.

  7. Since Gossips is not posting comments under Walter Chatham's resignation statement, I'd like to set the record straight here. The former Chairman has frequently denigrated and mischaracterized the opposition to Colarusso's application, and it's hard to stand by and see him do it again in his swan song.

    Just to be clear, nobody "berated" Mr. Chatham at the meeting—citizens were just taken by surprise. The Colarusso "work session," which was supposed to be on 12/4, was canceled, and no notice was given that it would be folded into the regular Planning Board meeting. Indeed, there was no posted agenda for the meeting at all.

    It was established earlier that this special session had to be public. Mr. McManus pointed out that the public was unaware (which it was), and that many others would have come had they known it was being tacked onto the regular meeting, including elected officials. He then said for this reason it should be postponed until January. And his being forceful (but respectful) about that point made Mr. Chatham angry.

    Just a further note: Mr. Chatham’s contention that the opposition—including Valley Alliance and Our Hudson Waterfront—are attempting to prevent the gathering of information couldn’t be further from the truth. Information is all we’ve been seeking since the beginning of the proposal, rather than the lack of information, disinformation, and belligerence Hudson has been getting from the get go. This includes a Colarusso lawsuit to keep the city from having any oversight role at all—a suit the company lost in State Supreme Court and the city won handily.

    1. Thanks for your comments, dkon.

      To offer a small qualification, though, the City did not win the lawsuit "handily" if by handily you mean easily. On the contrary, thanks to city attorney Ken Dow the City won decisively, which is easily what you meant to say.

      The heart of the case swirled around the confusing zoning language added to the City Code in 2011, also known as the "LWRP zoning."

      As Mr. Dow acknowledged in his Affirmation, "the provision in the Hudson Code that allows for converting the dock operations from a nonconforming use to a conditional use appears to be quite unusual" (#39).

      To say that the provision itself is unclear is a gross understatement, and despite a cornerstone of American culture that laws should be written clearly.

      I don’t presume to speak for Mr. Dow, but the meaning of "nonconforming" in the provision vis-a-vis the Code's other citations about nonconforming uses was a subject which left a number of attorneys scratching their heads. To his credit, it was then-Planning Board Attorney Mitch Khosrova who first challenged me to stick to the literal language of the provision, although he was as baffled as his colleagues were initially to the meaning of the thing. The interpretation which Mr. Dow argued successfully in his Affirmation was the result of an evolutionary process.

      Additionally, much of the Planning Board's time in 2017 was taken up by disputes about the meaning of Minor versus Major Actions, also added to the Code in 2011, and arguably at odds with the conditional use criteria in the C-R District. (As an alleged "Minor Action," and giving the Applicant the benefit of the doubt which it deserves, the company made a credible argument to Code Enforcement in 2015 that applying a new surface to the east causeway was "maintenance." Unfortunately, the unregulated action resulted in a wider the road.)

      These two examples alone of unclear laws required a ridiculous amount of time and energy on the parts of the public, their representatives, the city Boards, and the legal staff who advised City government.

      Please note, we have one principal person to thank for this costly lack of clarity: attorney Cheryl Roberts, the author of the LWRP zoning.

      To make matters worse, the level of confusion experienced ever since the zoning was amended by the city was due, in large part, to Chery Roberts' disregard - and seeming contempt - for the public's numerous comments and criticisms.

      Now that someone's had the terrible idea to invite her back to Hudson, it'll be interesting to see how she behaves when the next crisis emerges that's traceable to her incompetence. I refer to the 2011 Zoning Map on which she signed off by virtue of shutting out the public's apt and specific criticism. (I can almost guarantee that she'll work behind the scenes to suppress any need to revisit the embarrassing blunder, but that she'll fail because the public will insist.)

      When Roberts quit her City position in April 2014, Roberts left a wide wake of destruction behind, some of it with real-world consequences in the South Bay.

      I'm just saying that Ken Dow won the resulting lawsuit intelligently, but not exactly handily.