Saturday, September 25, 2021

Colarusso and the Planning Board

On August 18, the Times Union published an article by Roger Hannigan Gilson
 about the Hudson Planning Board's ongoing review of Colarusso's applications for conditional use permits to continue its operations on Hudson's waterfront. The lede to that article declared: "A seven-year battle over the future of Hudson's waterfront is coming to a head." Coming to a head it may be, but, in the words of Yogi Berra, "It ain't over 'til it's over."

On Thursday, the Planning Board held a special meeting, the original purpose of which was to continue its review of the Colarusso applications. At its previous meeting on the Colarusso issue, the Planning Board finished working its way through Part 2 of the Full Environmental Assessment Form, and some believed that, at Thursday's meeting, the board might make a positive or negative declaration in the SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) process. That didn't happen. Instead on Thursday, the board went into attorney/client session "for the advice of counsel," that counsel being assistant city attorney Victoria Polidoro. Interestingly, former Planning Board chair Betsy Gramkow was part of the Zoom meeting and presumably was part of the attorney/client session as well. When the public was readmitted to the meeting an hour and nine minutes later, Planning Board chair Stephen Steim announced that the Planning Board was not ready to take further action. Soon after he made that statement, the meeting was adjourned. 

The Planning Board is expected to take up the Colarusso issue again at its next scheduled meeting, which, according to the city calendar, will take place on Thursday, October 14.


  1. I think "for the advice of counsel" meant the Planning Board was finally explaining the facts of the case to their own lawyer.

    At the next meeting they'll work on their engineer.

  2. Finishing its work "through Part 2" of the EAF was unwise with less than a quorum.

    The less that we scrutinize the actions of government officials, the greater their inclination to slovenliness. (I commented on the details earlier.)

    In SEQRA reviews, this frequently leads to hazardous outcomes. If I had a SEQRA motto it would be to 'Button it down tight,' be thorough and unrelenting. So why do I keep seeing shortcuts taken?

  3. Setting the record straight, Carole. I was not in the Attorney/Client session as I am no longer a member of the Board. I watched the meeting because I have a genuine interest in the outcome.

    1. That, I didn't believe for a second. Of course not.

      But I do understand your genuine interest, just as you do mine.

  4. I ‘m always puzzled by the wonderment of the Hudson River shore cities and Towns people on their concern regarding the River bank and the many uses along its way from Mt. Tear in the Cloud to the Atlantic.
    The Hudson is sewer filled w toxic waste.
    It’s about time to use your energies to clean it up.
    That should start w Hudson’s very own waste water management and testing all Col. Cnty tributaries.

    1. The people at the NYS DEC Division of Water are crooks. Even the statewide director of enforcement lied straight to my face. When I called him on it he changed the subject. New York state is hopelessly corrupt.

  5. The Colarusso application has been before our Planning Board for five years, and the Board still hasn't arrived at a decision to demand an Environmental Impact Statement, which is a normal part of the process under SEQRA. This is beyond ridiculous. If a high-impact truck route through a protected wetland and a major gravel dump next to a city park and near to other waterfront amenities isn't grounds for a proper review, then what the hell is? In addition, the applicant has been a pain in the ass throughout the process, and should have been denied a long while ago.

    1. It really does seem this simple to me.

    2. Up to now I'd say that the Planning Board took the necessary time to be careful.

      The Board is well aware that the 2011 SEQR Findings Statement recommended a "Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement" - i.e., supplemental to the 2011 GEIS - for actions "subject to the conditional use zoning provisions."

      But it was only over the summer that the Board's attorney finally acknowledged the true extent of the present SEQRA review, breaking at last with the applicant's misunderstanding of its own loss before state Supreme Court Judge Melkonian. (It remains to be seen whether or not the engineering advisor agrees, since none of these people ever admit when they're wrong.)

      Redoing the applicant's insufficient Part 1 of the EAF (Environmental Assessment Form) was time consuming in itself. To have accomplished it correctly will be a benefit well into the future.

      Unfortunately, Part 2 of the EAF has been rushed, the completion of which is the Board's responsibility. (I refer to the incomplete and hurried discussions in August's sub-quorum meeting.)

      But if the Board keeps its focus and resists shortcuts, then a Supplemental EIS will be ordered very soon, in keeping with the recommendations of the 2011 review of which the current review would be the supplement.

      As a supplement, the review would avail itself of the entire* record of justifications and conclusions (and even public comments) which make this conditional use permit review possible at all.

      Moreover, the 2011 SEQRA review is on a continuum with Ken Dow's successful defense against the same applicant's more recent lawsuit against the Planning Board.

      To initiate a brand new EIS, and thus to abandon the continuum's entire* body of documentation, would be insane. It would be malpractice. Suicide.

      *Means: entire.

  6. I disagree. Five years to reach a decision on a project with massive downside implications and no upside is ridiculous. This application could have been dismissed in 2016.

    1. Yes, the application probably could have been dismissed at any time, but they'd still have to go through the SEQRA kabuki dance in any event.

      Also, it would have required that the city itself understand its own Code. Until this summer, however, the Board members were in doubt about what it was the Code tasked them to review. Their own attorney and engineer were committed to an error, and were frankly clueless for all of their talking.

      It's even unclear how long it's been since the start of the present review. The so-called "haul road" proposal reviewed by Greenport was for a different project, despite appearances of doubling which so confused a string of our city attorneys.

      It's even possible that the applicant sued the Planning Board just to delay the present review. The Greenport review should have succeeded this review, not preceded it, so that may have been the goal and strategy all along for the frivolous suit.

      I guess I mean to say, with so many confusing variables plus our easily confused officials, the problems with this review were adding up all along. So the reason I didn't agree with you up front (although I do agree) is that if the Planning Board now hurries it's likely to commit even more errors. That would be painful to watch when it was their collective misunderstanding, encouraged aggressively by the applicant, which had prolonged the review in the first place.

      Otherwise, for me it's always been about achieving the 2011 compromise: a one-lane private road straight to the mine which is used in two directions of travel, thus removing any need of gravel trucks on city streets west of 3rd Street.

      This is the way we achieved Environmental Justice in 2011, and it balanced all of the other interests too. Because the Mussmans of the world can't exploit this, they choose to forget it and thereby prolong people's pain for their own personal gain.

  7. This applicant has already gotten away with far too much.

    In the SEQR review for the city's adopted waterfront program which must be the template for every related decision now faced by the Planning Board (except it isn't! with some Board members new to Hudson who may be forgiven, but also those who were here in 2011 and still do not grasp the implications of the LWRP and its zoning changes; e.g., for years failing to comprehend that the subject of this permit review covers the entire property), the City's intention was always to limit the potential growth of the applicant's private road due to residents' overt concerns about runaway industrial growth at the waterfront if the road exceeded its then-existing size. That was the whole point of making it a nonconforming use, if only temporarily (paradoxically).

    Of course the causeway-road has steadily expanded in size since then, for the most part incrementally and always below the radar. And this despite our adopted waterfront program's explanation in the Generic Environmental Impact Statement that:

    "The LWRP zoning amendments subject all uses in the CR [Core Riverfront] Zone to site plan approval and existing commercial dock operations to conditional use permit. The zoning amendments have been changed to specifically clarify that such site plan approval is required. The zoning regulations have also been amended to provide additional guidance for the Planning [Board] to consider when granting a conditional use permit for an existing commercial dock or its access routes. See, LWRP Appendix C, page 4 - 8.

    "The City will subject improvements to the Causeway to conditional use permit. The zoning amendments have been modified to clarify that existing commercial dock operations include associated transportation routes. Improvements to these associated routes are also now identified as a basis for which a conditional permit is required. ..."

    [Final GEIS at 3.1.184, lead agency response to a comment from 'Save the South Bay.']

    It's well worth asking why it's taken so long for the City to grasp that the current review for a conditional use permit applies to ALL conditional uses on the property, as identified by the City in 2011.

    How did so many of our city attorneys - including the Planning Board's current lawyer - get it so wrong?

    In this, our past Corporate Counsel Ken Dow still stands alone. In his response to the Colarusso lawsuit against the Planning Board and the City, he merely quoted the words of the Senior Attorney for the NYS Department of State, William Sharp, to the City of Hudson Common Council on September 26, 2011:

    "it was made expressly clear [by Sharp] that any change - be it improvement, modification, replacement, or even repair - that occurred ... as specified in the language of [Code] section 325-17.1(D), would require that the owners seek a conditional use permit for the commercial dock operation as a whole" (Ken Dow, Memorandum of Law, 11/27/17).

    Following Dow's close and successful argumentation, why has it taken years for the city to figure out its meaning? How did subsequent lawyers get it so wrong? How many actions did the applicant get away with under the City's wrong interpretation of its own Code?

    Answer: a lot!