Friday, July 23, 2021

Colarusso and the Planning Board

A few months ago, the Planning Board started having special meetings to consider the Colarusso applications for conditional use permits for its dock operation. The next Planning Board meeting devoted to the Colarusso issue is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, August 3, at 6:00 p.m. The location of the meeting may be somewhere other than City Hall, but that is yet to be confirmed.

In the meantime, Gossips has learned that earlier this week, T. J. Ruane, an associate at Whiteman, Osterman & Hanna, the law firm of John Privitera, the attorney for A. Colarusso & Sons, submitted a FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request for: "All "records" . . . related to (i) A. Colarusso & Sons, Inc., (ii) the property with an address of 175 South Front Street, Hudson, NY . . . , and (iii) the adjacent haul road used to service the Property (collectively the "Subject Matter), from January 1, 2015 to the present date, including but not limited to correspondence, emails, public comments, reports, studies, memorandums, resolutions, proposed legislations, meeting minutes, committee meeting minutes, etc."  Specifically named in the FOIL request is everyone who has served on the Planning Board in the past five and a half years. From each of those people the following is requested:
All records including correspondence related to the Subject Matter, without any time period limitation, including emails, text messages, or other electronic correspondence, to or from [named Planning Board member], whether sent to or from [his/her] personal email account, work email account, personal cellular phone, work cellular phone, personal computer, or work computer. This shall include any such correspondence that [Planning Board member] is a part of (i.e. copied (cc) or blind copied (bcc) to an email correspondence), including any such records relating to any alleged bias by any Planning Board member.
The last phrase of the paragraph quoted above, which mentions "alleged bias by any Planning Board member," seems to allude to an allegation made by Privitera in October 2020, in a letter to Betsy Gramkow, then chair of the Planning Board, that two members of the Planning Board had a "conflict of interest or bias" regarding the Colarusso matter. The two members in question were Larry Bowne and Clark Wieman, and the alleged "conflict of interest or bias" related to their association with the advocacy group Our Hudson Waterfront. As Gossips reported at the time, Bowne acknowledged that prior to joining the Planning Board he had been associated with Our Hudson Waterfront but maintained he had never advocated for or against a specific outcome, insisting that if he were incapable of being openminded and fair, he never would have joined the board or taken the oath to faithfully discharge his duties as a member of the Planning Board. Wieman called the allegations of guilt by association, because of his partner's activities with Our Hudson Waterfront, "ridiculous and unfounded," asserting, "My views are my own, and I am committed to a full and open process."

The last meeting of the Planning Board to address the Colarusso issue took place on May 4, 2021. At that meeting, the Planning Board completed its review and responses to Part 2 of the Full Environmental Assessment Form. Consideration of Part 3 of the FEAF, in preparation for making a positive or negative declaration in the SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review) process, is expected to happen when the board meets on August 3.


  1. As a city resident and non-official, my own insistence that all parties honor federal, state, and local laws and policies is as fair as fair can be. And yet, my inquiries will be seen as biased by those with their own biases. With that principle ever in mind, I’ve always worded my own communiques very carefully.

    Even so, there were occasions when city officials expressed discomfort over discussing subjects which, in themselves, may be construed as being somehow biased. Early on, with a different Planning Board, I seem to remember someone asking me whether or not it was right to discuss “truck numbers.”

    In my experience alone, the Planning Board has been very careful and very professional, even back to 2015. I doubt that anyone has anything to worry about. But someone’s got a lot of FOIL work to collate!

    Instead of wasting $15,000 on outside lawyers to interpret basic legal concepts for us, the Common Council should have used that money to support the city’s lone Records Access Officer.

    Instead of being defiant over a federal directive which some of the nation’s largest cities have already tested (and lost to), the Planning Board might have done better anticipating a potential lawsuit from ACS which is easily confuted if and when the Board sticks to local laws and policies, and always to the principle of fairness.

  2. It's worth noting that rather than simply going through their permit review in good faith, Colarusso has chosen to try to advance their agenda by devious means. Apparently they know that their application is facing a steep uphill battle in many respects, so they are trying to game the system by any and all means. Here is Colarusso attorney John Privitera's track record over the past four years:

    ~ Tried to avoid a proper permit review by filing a lawsuit against our Planning Board. That desperate measure was thrown out in its entirety by a NY Supreme Court judge

    ~ Refused for three years to provide basic truck traffic data so that our Planning Board could make a rational determination

    ~ Failed to honor their obligation to keep the escrow account replenished to compensate consultants to the City

    ~ Accused Planning Board members of being biased and ethically compromised

    ~ Made the blatantly false claim that the company already has a Conditional Use permit

    ~ Refused to acknowledge that their entire property is under review

    ~ Filed a FOIL request seeking all the communications of the Planning Board

    1. That's a good list, Peter. Thanks.

      Another and a different sort of gaming the system is the company’s alleged “conservation easement.”

      It’s been referenced several times by ACS in Hudson’s ongoing review, but a great deal was made of it during the Greenport Planning Board review. The claimed easement was used by the applicant and by Greenport alike to blunt any criticism that anyone was being callous towards the South Bay.

      But it was Greenport’s own bias in favor of the applicant that prevented anyone in the Town from investigating the truth or falsity of the claim, despite the public’s several written requests.

      A conservation easement is a defined legal arrangement which allows certain tax advantages, so from the perspective of say the IRS, there’s either an easement or there isn’t. There’s no middle ground.

      Today, after years of research on this matter, no evidence has ever turned up that a conservation easement exists, at least not beyond the self-authored deed that’s on file with the County Clerk. The trouble is, nobody can identify the required third party “holder” of the easement, which is typically a conservation organization. No such organization in the mid-Hudson area is involved.

      So, who holds the easement?

      Earlier this year, Chairman Gramkow tasked PB attorney Polidoro to ask the applicant’s attorney “Who holds the easement?” I’m not aware that the question was ever answered, though there were rumors that ACS believes it holds its own easement.

      The very idea is ludicrous; easements definitively do not work that way. Moreover, a false claim about a conservation easement would surpass mere deviousness. If there’s no actual easement because there’s no 3rd party holder of the easement, then aside from how the claim may be used for tax advantages, a “false filing” felony would have transpired with the filing of the 2014 deed. (The alleged easement merits an entire section of the deed.)

      After years of Mr. Privitera’s cat-and-mouse game on this subject, the City of Hudson must settle the easement claim once and for all.

      (There are related irregularities concerning the applicant’s submitted maps, but the present comment is long enough.)

    2. Section 49-0305 of the New York Env. Cons. Law states that "3. (a) A conservation easement shall be held only by a public body or not-for-profit conservation organization," and also that "4. A conservation easement shall be duly recorded and indexed as such in the office of the recording officer for the county or counties where the land is situate in the manner prescribed by article nine of the real property law. The easement shall describe the property encumbered by the easement by adequate legal description or by reference to a recorded map showing its boundaries and bearing the seal and signature of a licensed land surveyor, or if the easement encumbers the entire property described in a deed of record, the easement may incorporate by reference the description in such deed, otherwise it shall refer to the liber and page of the deed or deeds of the record owner or owners of the real property burdened by the conservation easement. An instrument for the purpose of creating, conveying, modifying or terminating a conservation easement shall not be effective unless recorded. A person causing any such document to be so recorded shall forthwith forward a copy thereof to the department, which shall maintain a file of conservation easements." If it exists, it can only be held by a conservation NFP or a public body and it must be on file with both the County and the DEC.

    3. Thanks KD, that's exactly right.

      Because no record of the easement exists other than in the deed itself, to all appearances a filing crime has been committed with the Office of the County Clerk.

      I hope that the Planning Board takes this matter into consideration.

    4. DEC has no conservation easement on file for an parcel within the City of Hudson.

      Date: 07/27/2021

      Dear Mr. Dow,
      I write in response to your Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request seeking:

      Copies of any and all conservation easements (as provided for in Title 3 of Article 49 of Chapter 43-B of the Laws of New York) associated with or applicable to (either in whole or in part) any parcel of land wholly or partly located within the City of Hudson, New York (County of Columbia), or of any instrument creating, conveying, modifying, or terminating a conservation easement associated with or applicable to any parcel in the City of Hudson.

      Please be advised that a diligent search of the files maintained by DEC produced no responsive records.

      If you believe you have been unlawfully denied access to responsive records, you have the right to appeal. Any such appeal must be submitted in writing and within thirty (30) days of the date of this email. Appeals must be directed to:
      FOIL Appeals Officer
      Office of General Counsel
      New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
      625 Broadway, 14th Floor
      Albany, NY 12233-1500

  3. Sounds like an outfit worried that the process, if followed correctly, will be very unkind to its plan to drive vastly increased truck volume across two major arteries, then across our protected wetlands and one of Amtrack's busiest sections of track in New York. Two hundred and eighty-four truckloads a day, two giant trucks every five minutes, not to mention the corresponding rise in loading, right beside the city's only measly section of public waterfront. This is absurd. If anyone proposed this to the Planning Board as a new project, they'd be laughed out of the hearing room and driven out of town. It's no wonder ACS is throwing everything they can think of at these citizen volunteers.