Friday, January 7, 2022

About the Mayor's Public Hearing

Yesterday, Mayor Kamal Johnson held a public hearing on two local laws that the Common Council had voted to enact. The first was labeled "A Local Law Amending Chapter 325 of the Code of the City of Hudson to Allow Eating and Drinking Establishments in the R-4 Zoning District." The Council has been struggling with the need for this amendment for a few years now. The immediate impetus for the law has been one man: Basil Nooks, who bought a building on North Third Street, in an R-4 District, which had been a tavern for decades--first Christie's, then Joe's, then the Flying Frog--but not recently enough for its commercial use to be grandfathered in. 

The proposed Local Law No. 9 of 2017 would have addressed the problem, as well as solving the problem of Stewart's not being able to upgrade its facility at Green Street and Fairview Avenue, but the Council instead opted for a change to the zoning that allowed Stewart's to expand, demolishing two adjacent residential properties in the process, and will allow Scali's to the same should they ever decide to.

At yesterday's public hearing, only one person commented. That was Keith Kanaga, who was speaking from written comments he had previously submitted to the mayor and afterward shared with Gossips. In those comments, he points out that, although only eating and drinking establishments are mentioned in the title of the law, the proposed law actually refers to a number of commercial uses:
  • Retail stores and banks
  • Personal service stores, including but not limited to barbershops, beauty parlors, and tailors
  • Eating and drinking places
  • Service establishments furnishing services other than of a personal nature, including convenience stores
Kanaga's statement goes on it say:
An important rationale for the proposed law is given in Section 2. Legislative Findings, Intent and Purposes which states the inability to operate the uses above in the R4 district ". . . is too broad because it effectively limits commercial uses to the Warren Street commercial center. . . ." But that is followed by "By Local Law 9 of 2018, the City permitted such establishments within the R-2 and R-2H districts. . . ." Although not referenced in Section 2, these uses are also permitted in the Residential Special Commercial (RSC) district. It is also the fact that Warren Street is only part of the Central Commercial district, which also includes much of Union Street and Columbia Street. These uses are permitted throughout the entire Central Commercial district, not just Warren Street.
So the rationale for this proposed law is not supported by the facts.
I also find it troubling that there is no indication of the number of structures to which this proposed law would apply, and where they are located in R4. Surely this information is basic to understanding the potential impact of the proposed law and should have been addressed by the Common Council before passing the proposed law. 
Comment at the Common Council public hearing by Steve Dunn indicated that this proposed law was designed to benefit one person, bypassing any other remedies such as Zoning Board of Review approval for a use variation. I believe it inappropriate that a law is being passed to benefit one person.
Kanaga urged the mayor to veto the law and send it back to the Common Council for re-examination, citing these reasons:
  • The premise of the legislation is incorrect as to the limit of these uses in the City, showing a lack of understanding of the current City zoning.
  • Section 2 of the proposed law emphasizes eating and drinking places when the proposed law permits a number of uses. No discussion of these additional uses, and the impact on R4 district appears to have taken place.
  • The proposed law is designed to benefit one person without considering the wider impact on the entire district while alternative courses of action are open to the person benefiting from this proposed law.
  • No inventory of eligible structures has been provided. Common Council and the public are in the dark about the potential impact on R4 district.
It is not known if the mayor has vetoed the law or has signed it into law, but Kanaga is right to criticize the Council for not examining the impact of the proposed law more closely. The truth is there is a finite and easily identified number of buildings that will be affected by this law. They are buildings that were constructed for commercial purposes or had commercial uses prior to 1968, when the City of Hudson adopted its zoning, and found themselves in areas designated R-4 Residential by that zoning. 

A prime example is the building at South Third and Partition streets that was Harmon's Auto Repair. It had been an auto repair shop prior to 1968, and that use was grandfathered in whenever the business and the building changed owners. The building was sold in 2013 and stood vacant for more than a year, so a commercial use could no longer be grandfathered in. When the proprietors of Ör sought site plan approval from the Planning Board in 2015 for a coffee shop/wine bar cum art gallery, they were advised to emphasize the art gallery aspect of the business, because an art gallery was a conditional use allowed in an R-4 district. A coffee shop/wine bar was not.

Other buildings that will be affected by the proposed new law are also found on South Third Street, just across Partition Street from this building, which is now the location of Wylde. 

Both of these buildings have storefronts. One was the location for many years of Ritter's Grocery. Neither building could be a retail store again without the zoning amendment in the proposed law. Those with misgivings about the proposed law might have been reassured if the Council had, as Kanaga suggests, provided an inventory of the buildings that would be eligible for commercial uses. There are not that many of them.

Kanaga suggests that there are other remedies for Nooks' plight. Unfortunately, he has exhausted them. He has twice applied to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a use variance--once in 2007 and again in 2017. Neither attempt ended in success. One of the four requirements for a use variance is that the hardship is not self-created. Nooks' building ceased being the Flying Frog Tavern & Grill in 2004. Nooks bought the building in 2007, two years after the commercial use could be grandfathered in.

The other law that was the subject of the mayor's public hearing yesterday was the one regarding the honorary naming of streets. There were no public comments about that law. Both laws were the initiative of former Second Ward Alder Tiffany Garriga.


  1. Goodness, even with Garriga gone she's still causing headaches and wasting the Council's time. B Huston

  2. What in the world is wrong with allowing a restaurant to operate in Hudson that just happens not to be located on the main commercial street? Hudson is seriously in need of a rethink of its antiquated, suburban-style zoning code. Zoning laws maybe serve one useful purpose: putting some distance between neighborhoods where people live and noxious, polluting areas with heavy industry, etc. That's pretty much it. There is no good reason to separate residential areas from areas where retail, restaurants, and other commercial uses are permitted. Cities and small towns thrive only when mixed-use development is permitted.

    1. There are some reasons not to permit restaurants in residential areas. Imagine one opens up right next door to your house and starts blowing commercial kitchen fumes, deep fryer and meat grilling gasses that blow in your bedroom window while you are trying to sleep, not to mention the cars and noise. I could see some light retail, home offices etc, but bars and restaurants tend to be more of an annoyance.

    2. Every city but Hudson I've ever lived in has been able to figure it out.

  3. Another ham-handed production courtesy of our "government." Certainly an inventory of the finite locations affected by the proposed law could have helped, so could the use of a commercial overlay which would be applicable on a case-by-case basis and likely more conducive to local investment yielding thriving neighborhoods than the simple approach taken by the council.

  4. I wish I could have been at this public hearing to offer public comment.

    I live on Robinson Street around the corner from Basil’s place, and wholeheartedly support his enterprise.

    I eagerly await my first meal.

    I think this amendment is not only good for Basil Nooks, but is an essential step for the City of Hudson.

    Our zoning is antiquated and everyone knows it.
    It is based on a fundamentally different idea of what a city is supposed to be. It is from 1968, after all.

    For it’s entire history up until 1968, Hudson was an organic mixed-use and mixed-income place. It developed a vibrant urban form so many of us value.

    The future of Hudson depends upon it embracing this urban nature.
    This begins with abandoning the antiquated code that limits our growth.

    To prohibit the organic development of a mixed-used neighborhood is to deny the urban character of our city.

    I want to live in the City of Hudson.
    Not a town or a village.

    And I want to walk and ride my bike to Basil’s for lunch.

    1. Yes, a city! Thank you Peter for saying what I regularly think about the many complaints here. You live in a city! It comes with noises, smells, DIFFERENT types of architecture, etc, etc. If you don't like city living, we have a beautiful country setting all around us!

  5. My name is Steve Dunn, the same guy whose name appears above. The law that I drafted was not intended to be "private bill," drawn solely for the benefit of Basil Nooks. That is really an insulting comment as to me, and condescending as to Mr. Nooks. I do not know how on God's Green earth Mr. Keith Kanaga got that impression, nor why this issue suddenly animates him for that matter. Maybe it is the former Or Bar site. He does not live that far away. Whatever, it does not matter.

    The proposed law does however have limited impact. It needs to be a site that was once used for non residential purposes, and was not been converted to a residential purposes since.

    For these relatively few locations, that are either vacant, or are used for one of very few non residential purposes allowed in a residential district, the owner must still seek a conditional use permit from the planning board which will vet the proposed use, and can set conditions for it, or disallow it in its entirety, if it so chooses. The proposed law is NOT a get out a jail card. Nimby types as to an eligible site will be able to have their say with the planning board to try to thwart any proposed use.

    The while direction of what is considered good urban planning in densely populated cities is to make them pedestrian friendly, with conveniences for every day living within walking distance, and to discourage off street parking to facilitate such an environment. Hudson in fact has little of such every day living amenities, certainly on its north side, but basically everywhere. Such amenities as it does have are mostly directed to serve the upscale tourist trade, and the gentry with its expensive restaurants and chic specialty shops and art galleries. For the basics, you have to get into your car and drive to that certain dysutopian landscape known as Fairview Avenue, situated in that certain town that has no zoning laws at all.

    I might also add that the existing law invited corruption - yes corruption. The then city attorney at the time, allowed the Or Bar at the site Carole references above, to open under the guise that the bar was really an art gallery. And yeah, it did have a couple of pictures on the wall that you could buy. I doubt anything was actually sold however. In short, it was a deliberate fiction and an embarrassment, done by the powers that be, just because they could, and get away with it. Their defense if on the stand would be that bad laws, really bad laws, like the utterly insane and incoherent Hudson zoning code, which Hudson 50 years ago purchased from hucksters copied and pasted a zoning code written for some exurb, drove them to it.

    The bill did/does have drafting errors, one of which was mine. When after a long hibernation due to a lack of interest, it was reanimated due to Basil finding the law with the drafting errors did not help him (at least that is my surmise), I provided a corrected draft to Tom DePietro and the city attorney, Cheryl Roberts, that appears to have been put on ignore. In any event, I received no further feedback.

    I no longer have the energy, health or motivation to deal with these issues, and all the misrepresentations and misunderstanding, and ignorance, so I am done with this. The incompetence is just too much. The city is not going in the right direction, the civic atmosphere is terrible, and in many ways I am sorry I ever became aware of the city's existence.

    You may see me ambling down to the dog park with the pack from Robinson Street, but that will be about it. I am in effect resigning from the Hudson polity. It can stew in its own incompetence and sloth, etc., without me. In short, I almost wish I were not the same guy whose name is above.

    In all events, good luck to Peter Spear. May he pick up the baton and give them all hell.