Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Queue the Developers

In December 2010, Gossips reported what then mayor Rick Scalera had said about the recently acquired Kaz warehouses: "There are certainly challenges in taking the buildings down . . . it will be costly, but we have the opportunity as a city now to put in some grant applications to take those down so we can offer [the land] to a developer." Ten years later, two of the three warehouses still stand (and one missing was demolished by Redburn Development, at its own expense, to improve the view from The Wick), and HDC is still talking about offering the site to a developer--only now the site being offered could be considerably larger.

Yesterday's meeting of the Hudson Development Corporation was all about "real estate opportunities": a landlocked parcel owned by HDC on Mt. Merino and the Kaz site, now known as the Montgomery Street parcel. Bob Rasner, president of the HDC Board, defined his goal regarding the Kaz site as wanting the board "to approve the sale of the parcel in a sealed bid." The minimum bid suggested was $2 million.

Rasner opened the discussion by reminding the board, as he has before, of HDC's raison d'etre: 
It is the mission of this corporation to sustain, promote and attract projects that improve economic opportunities for businesses and residents, create jobs and enhance the quality of life in the City of Hudson. Note no mention [of] real estate development, city planning, zoning, etc. Those responsibilities fall to others… public and private entities skilled and invested in those skills.
In his address to the board, Rasner revealed that the scope of the plan being contemplated goes far beyond the five-acre site, which he described as being "bounded by Montgomery Street on the north, Front Street on the west, residential properties on the east, and the City's long-term parking lot and [ADM] rail spur on the south." Rasner told the board:  
It should come as no surprise that prospective purchasers, as long ago as my early days on this board, have always asked if the parcel had actual river frontage, noting that such a feature would add considerable value to the land. Of course, the land [west] of the site, is owned by the City… the Dunn Warehouse parcel. Likewise, early developers saw opportunity to repurpose valuable acreage presently used by the City as long term parking. We have received information to assist us in rethinking parking at the riverfront, suggestions that would . . . up the long term parking area for a more productive use but retain ample parking to accommodate Amtrak passengers and residents and produce a revenue stream for the city
This past summer, the Common Council authorized the mayor to include the three City-owned parcels along Water Street, between the Dunn warehouse and Ferry Street bridge, in the request for expression of interest (REI) in redeveloping the Dunn building. This change was made at the suggestion of Bonacio Construction, the only developer to respond to the original REI for the Dunn building, issued back in March. Now it seems HDC and the City of Hudson are looking to collaborate to offer a significant chunk of the city and its precious waterfront to developers. This is what Rasner proposed yesterday:
Clearly, the KAZ parcel and the Dunn parcel are extremely valuable, and if joined, the two are worth more than the sum of the parts. To that end, I am today asking the Mayor to promptly enter into discussions with this Board to strategize joint sale of these parcels.
Rasner made reference to Council president Tom DePietro's resolve to rebuild the City's depleted fund balance by selling City-owned properties and spoke frequently of a letter he had received from Planning Board chair Betsy Gramkow, which seemed to have played some role in motivating the proposed course of action. The letter, which Gossips requested and received from Gramkow, speaks only of the five-acre Kaz parcel and makes no reference to bundling it together with the Dunn warehouse and the waterfront parcels. It offers the assistance of the Planning Board and outlines a process. The following is quoted from the letter:
As members of the Hudson Planning Board, it is our hope that we can work with you to engage public and private stakeholders in a planning process that will best position Kaz for successful development. 
As you know, the Kaz Warehouse site is one of Hudson's premier development opportunities. Appropriately managed, it promises to produce jobs, housing, cultural and commercial space, adding immeasurably to Hudson's future. This effort would yield a number of tangible benefits:
  • Channel citizen energy at the beginning of a design and development process, define public amenities at the site, and generate public support for an urban design for the parcel.
  • Create development guidelines that reduce risks for developers, while driving up the parcel's value.
  • Set the stage for a dynamic new mixed-use neighborhood in Hudson. The goal would be to tap existing expertise and venues, including but not limited to the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, the Common Council-led Planning Task Force (chaired by John Rosenthal), as well as local interested groups such as Future Hudson and Historic Hudson.
Although Gramkow's letter addressed only the Kaz parcel, Rasner's vision extends beyond that. He stated that the Amtrak parking lot "should also be in play," opining that it was wasteful to have cars parked all on one level," and reiterated his conviction that the Kaz parcel "would be far more valuable if it stretched across the railroad tracks to the river." 

Branda Maholtz, executive director of HDC, asked, "Is it the intent of this administration to sell Dunn or retain ownership?" There was no direct answer to her question, although shortly before she asked the question, Mayor Kamal Johnson expressed his desire to "get the City out of the landlord business." 

Rasner said he wanted "to move the wheels quickly" and asked that the discussion with the City take place in the next two weeks. He also called for a bid package to be developed and ready for board review in two weeks.

When public comment was invited, John Kane, presumably referring to the Dunn warehouse and the adjacent parcels along Water Street, cautioned, "The Hudson waterfront is a valuable community resource, and there will be objection to parceling it off to a developer."


  1. The question is, does Hudson really want to go there? "Developers and development" are words used by people with their eyes on the dollar, to connote progress and positivity to something that may end up having a negative impact on the city and the people living here. How about we plow down those old decrepit buildings, remove the concrete and debris, spread some topsoil and let nature "develop" and "restore" the property back to it's original intended use.

    Now is not the time "to move the wheels quickly." Rather, it is the time to put on the brakes and take a long hard look at what is being proposed and why. Let's not be exploited by a conditioned impulse to stick another building on every empty lot. Once you build it, you are stuck with it, for a very long time. Selling the land might provide some quick cash, but like a junkie who wants that fix, it is soon gone, and the problem not only remains, but is now deeper and more complicated.

    1. The City of Hudson has dawdled and delayed and discussed the applications and uses of these parcels ad nauseum.

      the main goal of responsible people should be to get out of the landlord business, and allow private developers to invest in hudsons future.

      Hudson needs taxpaying owners to defray the over burdened City that has too many parcels off the tax rolls.

      Now is the time to move forward and allow development to continue. Redburn is a good example of an amazing transformation. We now have a productive use of a site that employs people and pays taxes to the City.

      lets focus on real economic solutions for our City in this time of financial crisis. the mayor is right -- get out of the landlord business !!

  2. The City has no lawful authority to sell or convey waterfront property without a specific act of the NY State Legislature. Those lands are held in public trust and the City cannot convey them to a private entity. New York State General City Law provides that "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..."

    In a 2013 letter to the City of Hudson I cited a previous memo to the City written in 2012 by NYS Department of State attorney William Sharp. The City has been on notice for several years that New York Law does not allow it to alienate its waterfront lands. A relevant excerpt of my 2013 letter is as follows:

    We note that in an advisory opinion to the City of Hudson in 2012 regarding a different Waterfront parcel (located at Hudson’s North Bay), DOS attorney William Sharp noted this same prohibition as a reason why such lands could not be leased or sold to an independent organization. Mr. Sharp advised, in his memorandum to City Attorney Cheryl Roberts regarding the “General Prohibition on Alienation of Waterfront Property,” that:

    ”General City Law§ 20(2) prohibits the alienation or divestiture by a city in its waterfront property. It states, ‘the rights of a city in and to its waterfront, 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.’”

    Mr. Sharp cited among others the well-known case of Gladsky v. City of Glen Cove, 164 A.D.2d 568 (2nd Dept. 1991), app. den. 78 N.Y.2d 859, about which he wrote “the Appellate Division has held that a city may not sell its waterfront property without an act of the State Legislature... The Court stated, ‘waterfront property ... is entitled to special protection by virtue of its geographic location rather than by virtue of its use ... Waterfront property is intrinsically unique.’” Mr. Sharp, whose full memorandum is attached, further added that “In those rare instances in which city waterfront or park land has been conveyed to private owners, the State Legislature has passed a special act authorizing the conveyance,” citing as an example the Broad Channel Conveyance Act of 1973. It seems to be entirely clear that express legislative authorization is required in order to permit the sale or alienation of a city’s waterfront lands.

    1. Sounds like a legal block to me. or are we in a New Iron Curtain Country -- where The Bureau will rule to make sure nothing ever happens but alot of talk and/or legal maneuvering.

      the Kaz parcel is far away from the waterfront and is really a very under-utilized parcel.

    2. I believe KD is talking about the parcels north of the Dunn building and adjacent to riverfront park not the Kaz site. Many in the community have envisioned an expansion of the park rather than using the land to site residential or commercial development.

    3. Thanks for the clarification, Carole, but
      the City would do very well to sell the Kaz site for development. the City needs the money, and it needs tax payers.

      the land on the other side of the tracks is another story.

    4. To be clear, my comment above was was in response to the passage in Carole's post citing Bob Rasner's "conviction that the Kaz parcel 'would be far more valuable if it stretched across the railroad tracks to the river.'"

  3. If the City and HDC want a dynamic, mixed-use neighborhood to arise around the south bay, I don't know why they don't partner to devise a proper zoning plan for the area and begin selling the lots to homesteaders (as that term is commonly understood) and small businesses who are willing to invest in the construction and operation of residential and commercial buildings. If our collective recent history has taught us anything, it's that the citizens of Hudson are its best developers and City Hall (and its appurtenances) should step away after crafting a basic legal framework for that development.

    1. John, it sounds like some people here are very much opposed to anything dynamic.
      Let's see if the City can put together a plan that builders and investors actually respond to, and put their money in. In the end that is the only measure of success.

  4. A new mixed use neighborhood, I love it. Homesteaders. Hudson need not be just a living antique, it can also be a living, growing community.

  5. The KAZ parcel and the adjacent lot would make an excellent site for development and a welcome addition to the tax rolls. HDC has done a lot of hard work moving this project forward. Ultimately, more density, if scaled correctly, can be a good thing.

    The Dunn Warehouse and adjoining lots are part of our Waterfront, which is a community resource. Outdoor recreation and green spaces are vital to quality of life. Selling off these resources to resolve a short-term budget crisis created as much by the mayor's inability to properly rein in spending as the pandemic would be a mistake with consequences that will far outlive our current population.

    If the City wants to raise funds by selling real estate, it should start by selling the building next to the old police station, which currently houses Code Enforcement. That building is used by only a few City employees.

    There is nothing quite so hypocritical to me as politicians who claim to be progressive while acting as stooges for developers looking to pilfer the commons. Claiming the City is desperate for cash after failing in any significant way to cut spending is the equivalent of throwing a grenade into a room then running in after the explosion to rescue everyone just so you can look like the hero.