Sunday, November 1, 2020

News from the Legal Committee

The legislation regulating short term rentals is still sitting on the aldermen's desks. The Common Council did not vote to enact the law at its regular meeting in October because a recommendation from the Columbia County Planning Board had not yet been received. Having dispatched the STR law, the Legal Committee was expected to move on to its next big priority: an amendment to the city code that would effect improvements to the sidewalks throughout the city. That didn't happen at the Legal Committee meeting on October 28. Instead, Jeff Baker, counsel to the Council, reported that he was "trying to get something [to the committee] in the next couple of weeks."

Last Wednesday, with John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee, absent, and Rebecca Wolff (First Ward) presiding over the meeting in his stead, some different topics were pursued. Committee member Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) introduced the topic of Basil Nooks and his frustrated aspiration to open a restaurant at 61-63 North Third Street. In support of Nooks' plan, Garriga declared, "Since Savoia has been closed, there is no place for black people to congregate."

Gossips has been reporting about the situation of Nooks and his building on North Third Street since August 2017, when Nooks appeared at a Common Council meeting seeking a zoning amendment that would allow him to establish a restaurant in the building. There had been an eating and drinking establishment in the building for decades. Once upon a time it was Christie's Tavern. In the 1970s, it was Joe's Tavern. Most recently, it was the Flying Frog Tavern & Grill. The Flying Frog closed in 2004, after there had been a fire in the building.

Nooks bought the building in July 2007, apparently fully expecting that he would be able to open a restaurant there. What he seems not to have realized was that the zoning adopted in 1968 designated the area an R-4 District, where an eating and drinking establishment is not a permitted use. Previous uses had been grandfathered in, but more than a year had passed between the time the Flying Frog closed and when Nooks bought the building, so opening a restaurant there would require either a use variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals or a zoning amendment from the Common Council.

Nooks began the process of applying for a use variance back in 2007 but gave it up. Ten years, later, allegedly on the advice of code enforcement officer Craig Haigh, although Haigh denies it, he decided to petition the Council to amend the zoning code. In response to Nooks' situation and a few others, the Legal Committee at the time drafted Local Law No. 9 of 2017. In essence, what the law says is that any building constructed and used as a commercial building prior to 1968, which ended up in a residential district as a consequence of the zoning adopted in 1968, could have a commercial use even if more than a year had passed since its last commercial use. This law would have solved the problem of 61-63 North Third Street, and also the problem of 35 South Third Street, once Harmon's Auto Repair and most recently the location of Ör Gallery and Tavern. When the Planning Board gave site plan approval to Ör back in November 2014, it was approved as a gallery, a permitted use in an R-4 District, that served coffee and wine. 

Now that 
Ör has been closed for more than a year, one wonders what the building's next use will be and whether those plans involve its continuing as some kind of some kind of eating and drinking establishment.

Local Law No. 9 of 2017 would even have addressed the Stewart's issue, allowing them to rehab the existing building or even build a new building on the same lot without expanding into two adjacent lots and demolishing two residential properties,  representing six affordable dwelling units, in the process. But Local Law No. 9 was drafted in 2017, and in 2018, a new Council with new leadership on the Legal Committee chose to go a different way. One can only hope the current Legal Committee and its counsel take a serious look at the law that was drafted three years ago.

Another issue brought up at the Legal Committee on Wednesday was inclusionary zoning. Wolff reported that she was having conversations with Alexandra Church, the city planner from Newburgh who came to Hudson in April 2019 to talk about form-based code and its impact on such problems as parking and affordable housing. In the past, there has been reluctance in city government to make "piecemeal" changes to the zoning code to correct the code's obvious problems, preferring to wait until such time as the City could afford a comprehensive revision of the code. Apparently, Church is advising quite the opposite, saying there is nothing wrong with fixing what needs to be fixed.

On the subject of inclusionary zoning, members of the Legal Committee seem to be unaware that inclusionary zoning is already part of the Hudson zoning code, although it applies only to one district in the city: the Riverfront Gateway District, which is the area where Hudson Terrace is located. Inclusionary zoning is addressed in Chapter 325-17.4 F of the code:
Inclusionary zoning. In order to ensure an economically diverse housing stock in the R-G District, the development or redevelopment of any multiple dwelling, multiple-family dwelling, or the subdivision of a parcel resulting in 10 or more dwelling units shall only be developed or redeveloped as set forth in this subsection. For purposes of this subsection, the term "redevelopment" means any activity related to a building or structure for which the issuance of a building permit would be necessary pursuant to § 325-30.
(1) Affordable housing set aside. At least 20% of the total number of dwelling units must be set aside and affordable as "low-income housing" or "moderate-income housing" as those terms are defined in § 325-42, whereupon the Planning Board shall grant a density bonus to the owner or developer of such parcel of no greater than 30% as provided for in § 325-28.2G(1) (a) through (e), (2) and (3).
The specifications go on, but the Legal Committee might save a lot of time--their own and that of their legal counsel--if they used this existing language in the zoning code as a starting place. At the Legal Committee meeting, Council president Tom DePietro said there was urgency in getting inclusionary zoning place because of a "large-size project," which he described as "a private spot with a public dimension," that was "back on the front burner." It wasn't clear exactly what he was alluding to, but Gossips suspects he was talking about the development of the Kaz site, which belongs to the Hudson Development Corporation, an agency DePietro has shown disdain for in the past, even though he is an ex officio member of its board.

Alderman Dominic Merante (Fifth Ward), who is not a member of the Legal Committee but was present at the meeting, asked Baker if there had been any movement on efforts to reduce the speed limit in Hudson. Baker suggested that the Council could identify specific streets where speeding was a problem and pass a local law reducing the speed limit in those areas. He also suggested it might be possible to get special legislation passed, which would involve a home rule message to the state legislature, to get the speed limit reduced to 25 mph throughout the entire city, including the truck routes. He remarked, however, that the Department of Transportation was unlikely to agree to reducing the speed limit on the truck routes and also noted that the City would have to put up new signage at its own expense.

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