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
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.
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.
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